There are few things more
exhilarating than a good sword fight where the hero outwits, outfights, and
generally outshines his opponents in the name of truth, justice, and the
American way. Okay, it’s usually in the name of rum, wenching, and booty, but you
get the idea. From Errol Flynn to Captain Jack Sparrow, we love a good
swashbuckling adventure tale, and can’t wait to find more.
But what does it take to make a
great swashbuckling fantasy story?
First you have to have a great
leading character. And it can’t just be a brooding, dark avenger-type, hanging
out on rooftops and swooping down to mete out justice from the shadows. If he or she swoops down, it has to be with a ready quip, and more flair than
firearms. You know, like Spider-Man.
The web slinger is a direct
descendant of Errol Flynn. After all, where do you think he got the idea to
swing from his webs? Spider-Man is featured in some amazing stories throughout
his 50-year history, but there’s always the vulnerability that we love in
swashbuckling heroes. He’s never the biggest guy, the toughest guy, but he
always manages to triumph in the end, and always with a wisecrack as he swings
away. I recommend new readers start with the collected editions, likeSpider-Man: Birth of Venom, or Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage.
But it takes more than wisecracks
to buckle a swash. You have to have the ocean. Swashbuckling just fits on pirate ships. Whether it’s a
roaring old sea dog like Amos Trask in Raymond Feist’s The King’s Buccaneer or a feisty young woman with a secret like
Kestrel in Misty Massey’s Mad Kestrel,
we love a good pirate story. And it’s character that makes those stories leap
off the page.
But even the best characters are
adrift and becalmed without action. And if character is the soul of a
swashbuckling tale, action is its heart. And nowhere do you find a better blend
of action and character than On Stranger
Tides by Tim Powers. The 1987 novel, which formed the basis for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film, blends
magic, pirates, action, and rich characters. Powers builds worlds and tells
stories like no one else, making On
Stranger Tides a great addition to any swashbuckling library.
So there ye go, me hearties. Get
some grog in your bellies and some salt air in your faces, and enjoy these swashbuckling
tales of adventure and derring-do. --John G. Hartnes
John G. Hartness is the author of The Black Knight Chronicles, an urban
fantasy series featuring some very clever vampires. There are no sparkles. Just snark. Look for Paint it
Black this fall, the fourth installment in The Black Knight Chronicles.