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.
No, not William Shakespeare. I’m writing today about “Bard” by Keith Taylor. A hat tip to Black Gate http://www.blackgate.com/ for the recommendation. “Bard” was exactly what I needed, fast paced, well-written, humorous, cover-to-cover action and magic.
“Bard” is an exemplar of 1980’s fantasy. Back then I could head to the mall with a five dollar bill, hit the Waldenbooks or B. Daltons, buy a paperback and still have enough for a sandwich at the food court, and maybe a few quarters left over for the arcade. For my book-buying dollar I’d get two or three hundred pages of story. The page counts grew during the ‘80s. It wasn’t uncommon for ‘70’s paperbacks to weigh in at 175 pages. The ‘80s were a stepping stone on the way to the current paradigm: book one of an endless cycle. I’m not opposed to cinder block-sized epics, but sometimes I don’t want to commit to 8,000 words and ten plus volumes that won’t be completed for the next fifteen years. Sometimes I just want a self-contained tale. Not that all novels from the ‘80s were stand alone stories. “Bard” has sequels, but there is no cliff-hanger ending compelling continued reading, no “to be continued” or “Book One of the Bard Saga.”
Instead we get an episodic tale of Felimid mac Fal, a bard, natch. He’s traveling through Britain, from his native Ireland, during the Saxon invasions subsequent to the Roman exodus – the era of the King Arthur legendarium. Arthur doesn’t make a personal appearance in “Bard” but references pop up here and there. Felimid is an atypical sword and sorcery hero. He can fight, and ends up doing a fair amount of it. But he’d rather avoid it, rather lie his way out of a conflict, use his wits and music and magic.
“Bard” is steeped in Irish folklore. That’s another reason the book is an exemplar of ‘80s fantasy. Celtic myth enjoyed a vogue in the fiction of the decade. Seemed like every book you picked up involved the Sidhe, or Tuatha de Danann, or the Fomorians. Not that I minded. If that vogue comes around again I won’t complain.
Pick up a copy of “Bard.” I think you’ll enjoy it.