Singing the Praises of Bard II
With Felimid mac Fal, Keith Taylor offers a unique take on the Sword-and-Sorcery hero. Felimid is an Irish bard, making his way through the early sixth century power vacuum created by the fall of the western Roman Empire on the strength of his wits, his magical bardic skills, and (not least) his magic harp and magic sword. But he’s a reluctant warrior. He’s no coward, but he’d prefer to avoid a fight, and if it comes to it, would rather engage in a duel than become involved in a pitched battle.
Felimid’s gifts are dependent upon the natural world remaining relatively unaltered by civilization. Thus, he can still harp up the magic while in a Saxon longhouse, but once within the bounds of a decaying Roman town, with its ruler-straight roads and stone houses, his magic deserts him. The supernatural creatures that slip by unnoticed to the average woodcutter or farmer are perfectly visible to him, and he can and does converse with them. Taylor can thus set his tales in a quasi-historical setting while simultaneously mining the folk legends of Western Europe.
And that’s what he does in Bard II, throwing in some Eastern European mythology for good measure.
Felimid, attempting to slip away from Britain in the aftermath of the events of Bard, finds himself part of a pirate crew. He’s ambivalent about the role and, for about half the book, uncertain why he stays in the employ of the pirate captain, Gudrun Blackhair. Those two kids eventually figure it out, don’t worry.
The sea voyages provide Taylor the opportunity to play with European folklore from (Part 1) the West, (Part 2) the North, and (Part 3) the East. It all works seamlessly. And the forward momentum never lets up. Taylor doesn’t let more than a chapter or so go by without some serious action: ship battles, duels, monster attacks, etc. He brings the Swords AND the Sorcery.
There’s plenty going on, and not all of it is surface level. Felimid is a thinker, a brooder. Through Felimid mac Fal, Taylor provides the kinetic action, brutality, and dark currents of despondency of Robert E. Howard layered over the wry cynicism, practicality, and humanity of Poul Anderson. Recommended.
I’d also recommend Blood and Jade, by me, because that horn doesn’t toot itself.