Now with sword & sorcery

I’ve made a new tag: sword & sorcery.

As reported in this post, I’ve plunged into the contemporary sword & sorcery scene lately. We have a couple of Discord servers with a nice — and lively — sense of community; if you want to have a look around them, hit me up for an invite (email bryn at amgalant dot com; also find me on the new socials,;

Today I have a story out in A Book of Blades Volume II from Rogues in the House Podcast. It’s a Goatskin story, like my two in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine Issue 0 (free in epub/pdf) and Issue 1, due around October. ‘Goat Against the City God’ in A Book of Blades is the first S&S I wrote, and kind of an origin story for my Goatskin — in which she picks up a sword. Goatskin is a goatherd nomad living in a fantasy-Tangut on the eve of the thirteenth century, and her tales are grounded in my Amgalant research.

There are thirteen other contemporary sword & sorcery authors in the ToC, including Oliver Brackenbury, editor at New Edge Sword & Sorcery (that’s NESS for short).









Buy A Book of Blades II on Amazon
Paperbacks available now, and ebooks … any moment now?

Why New Edge sword & sorcery?


Why am I involved in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine? I have been a historical novelist for nigh on twenty years, but last year and this one – if our Kickstarter funds – have entangled me in a rush of enthusiasm for inclusive, and innovative, sword & sorcery. Let me explain myself.

There are a few key things I like about sword & sorcery. It is set apart from epic fantasy or high fantasy by its outsider heroes, its low or private stakes, and a weirdness that remains unexplained. At least, those three things are what I like. I’ll comment on them one by one.

Outsider heroes. Where do I start? By the time I ran into Colin Wilson’s cult classic The Outsider, I had already found for myself most of the books he features, and they had been important to me. It was like, yeah yeah, tell me something new. I had gone through my Seven Pillars of Wisdom craze, I had begun my continuing obsession with the works of Dostoyevsky, I had latched onto William Blake. This is not advice to read The Outsider, which is a grab-bag, probably, of popularisations and pop psychology. It is just to say what I gravitated to.

And why? Discussions on ‘what makes sword & sorcery’ have got into focus for me why. Of course, I’m a queer woman whose growing-up was bedevilled by gender expectations and your old heteronormativity. These were my serial foe, my Moriarty or my kryptonite, my danger. I do not know the person I’d have grown to be without them. I have a deadname, like an alien inside me to this day. Society excluded me from its basic institutions such as marriage. So, is S&S for queer people? You bet. The hero is an outsider, and stays that way: the hero doesn’t win a kingdom, isn’t reconciled into the majority, doesn’t join the forces of law and order in the end.

Which leads me to low stakes. Private adventures, serial adventures feel more true to my experience. Small gains – often lost again; survival; motivations that seem to the privileged to be selfish: these feel real to me.

And a weirdness that remains unexplained. I am not greatly into horror (one arm of S&S reaches into horror) but neither am I into magic in my fantasy. The weird is where I like it, and when I am writing weird, I am going to incline towards the monsters. Because I’ve been on the side of the monsters since I was a kid. Now, this isn’t necessarily the main thread of S&S, but it’s a strand. When the evil of your story lies in privilege, in civilization – when sword & sorcery, famously, from its Conan beginnings, takes a ‘barbarian’ perspective – then sympathy for monsters is just around the corner. My version of Beowulf (explicated in this poem) was always a monster himself, and rather than slay them for the safety of society, perhaps he should have joined them.

Here’s a photo representative of the sword & sorcery I grew up on. In genre, I grew up much more on science fiction and fantasy than on historical fiction, and there’s a lot to be said about that – or for that – which ought to be a post. I liked plenty of SFF flavours, and among them (particularly when they gave me an adventurous woman of her hands), S&S.

Special shout-outs to Charles R. Saunders’ Dossouye stories in the Amazons anthologies (also in the first few of Sword and Sorceress), who wrote a fighting woman with astonishing ease where others floundered and embarrassed themselves [1]; to M. John Harrison’s Pastel City, whose atmospheric prose and moody story were my Platonic Ideal as a young writer; and to Delany, for his wresting inside-out of sword & sorcery that engaged the intellect’s sense of adventure as well.

I won’t here go into sword & sorcery antecedents which have figured hugely in my history – from Beowulf and Gilgamesh to chivalric romances: if you know me you know these been my bread and butter, but they belong to another post.

In the S&S present, two that most excite me published in the last couple of years are Sometime Lofty Towers by David C. Smith, for its psychology and its postcolonial plot, and The Red Man and Others by Angeline B. Adams and Remco van Straten, for its realism, its relatableness, and for being a crafted artefact (get the paperback). And of course, New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine – its test Issue 0, its line-up for 1-2, and its potential.

We have a Kickstarter running until March 5 to fund issues 1 and 2. I beg the gods, not only to fund, but to reach the first stretch goal, which means not one but two illustrations to each story and nonfiction piece. Because you’ve got to preview the art, which you can do on the Kickstarter page with our nineteen artists’ samples. And look at the author names! Margaret Killjoy … an old bloke called Michael Moorcock …

Do I want to be in one of these issue’s ToCs, with one and maybe two illustrations to my story? You bet. More than I want much of anything right now, so – if you can help fund us, if you want these gorgeous magazines, puhleese have a look at our Kickstarter.

Have a look, too, at Issue 0, FREE in epub/pdf, available at-cost in paperback and hardcover.



1. The same can be said for Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes, but I discovered her only recently. I’d agree with and possibly push even further the argument in Nicole Emmelhainz’s ‘Gender Performativity in Howard’s “Sword Woman”’, in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Issue 0.

Fantasy Tangut story

I have another story out, this one quite Amgalant-adjacent: ‘The Grief-Note of Vultures’ in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine.

It’s set in a fantasy version of Tangut (the ‘Great State White and High’) in the late 12th or early 13th century. This is where I’m at in writing Amgalant Three, Scavenger City: off-steppe, the fringes of the steppe, contested frontiers between steppe and settled. That’s where my head is, and so this story.

My fantasy-Tangut is a bit of a dystopia, at least for nomads. Those steppe frontiers have a history—and an urgent present, at the turn of the 12th-13th century—of forced settlement, of anti-nomad policies. As well, Tangut was a place of steep inequality, as disclosed to me in The Economy of Western Xia: A Study of 11th to 13th Century Tangut Records by Shi Jinbo—an invaluable close-up on Tangut in open access.

The story plot began with a tidbit I glimpsed years ago: a hell scene that seemed to be a semi-realist picture of torture, state-comissioned shortly after the conquest of the area. A caption speculated that the atrocities of conquest were re-interpreted in this religious art, in validation or even in an obscure contrition. Well, that has gone into my draft for Scavenger City, and I pulled it out to serve as the nub of this short story. For Tangut and its art, visit the site of the International Dunhuang Project

What else is historical in the story?

On spirits, my human-animal amalgam-spirits and spirit behaviour in general, as always, my first source is Shamans And Elders: Experience, Knowledge And Power Among The Daur Mongols by Caroline Humphrey with Urgunge Onon. I cannot say too much about this book, but said a bit in my Goodreads review.

I have a woman ‘king’ of bandits. She is inspired by Yang Miaozhen, who led a force of ten thousand bandits in the chaos of North China under Mongol invasion, and when she went over to the Mongols, was appointed to a governorship by them. I feel that this commoner woman’s career, as bandit leader and as governor, was only possible in the chaotic situation, and so I link my bandit with chaos. On Yang Miaozhen, the necessary article is ‘Yang Miaozhen: A Woman Warrior in Thirteenth-Century China’ by Pei-Yi Wu in the journal NAN NÜ: Men, Women and Gender in China (2002).

Angaj-Duzmut and friends have other stories in progress. I have cast them in pre-Chinggis Tangut, with the thought that in future I can have them live through a fantasy Mongol invasion. On Chinggis Khan and Tangut, see my rather long post.

There is a second steppe-related story in the magazine. ‘The Curse of the Horsetail Banner’ by Dariel R. A. Quiogue riffs, fantasy-style, on Chinggis history. Seen here with art by Hardeep Aujla.





New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine’s Issue 0 is free in epub and pdf, and available at-cost in paperback and hardcover. Go here: