“One whole venison pie feeds a family of four,” comments Makri, passing with a tray.
“Not if I get there first,” I say, moving on to the pork and apple pastries.Thraxas
There are many re-releases I have been waiting for with baited breath this year. Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books are due from Centipede Press. Michael Moorcock’s entire back catalogue of fantasy and SF is slowly (come on Gollancz, get the finger out!) making its way into ebook format. The re-release of Martin Scott’s Thraxas books though came as a completely unexpected and very pleasant surprise. I stumbled across them by accident when looking for something else on Amazon.co.uk.
The first book in the series won the World Fantasy Award against very strong competition back in 1999 (I seem to remember) and the series so far has extended to nine books. Distribution always seemed a bit patchy, at least in the parts of the world I have lived in, and now the author has taken it upon himself to indie publish the books. I, for one, am very glad he has done so. Suffering from DVD box set effect I read the entire series in quick succession on my recent holiday.
For those of you unfamiliar with him, Thraxas is a great swordsman when sober, a very minor mage who dropped out of magician’s school as a youth, a former world-wandering mercenary. These days he is an overweight, alcoholic, middle-aged investigator who stalks the mean streets of Turai, a decadent and depraved minor city state in an un-named fantasy world. He dwells in two rooms above The Avenging Axe, a tavern owned by his former mercenary colleague, the barbarian Gurd.
So far, so cliched, you are thinking. I mean we’ve all seen this before— the embittered loner detective with authority issues, a problem with local law enforcement and a serious, ongoing battle with the bottle. But no, I can assure you, you’ve not seen anything quite like Thraxas before. For one thing Thraxas has a joi de vivre unusual among embittered loner heroes— he’s a man who knows how to grab a beer with each hand, stack up the venison pies and recover from his latest encounter on the mean streets of Twelve Seas.
For another thing, the books are extraordinarily funny. They play with the cliches of hard-boiled detective stories, Dungeons and Dragons, sword and sorcery and kung fu movies (among other things) in a way that makes me laugh out loud.
There’s real verbal dexterity to Thraxas’s wit, but the humour arises naturally too from the characters. The most powerful wizard in Turai, Lisistratis, Mistress of the Sky, war-hero and dragonslayer, is now a total stoner who spends a great deal of her time and power finding ways to accelerate the growth and potency of her favourite drug. The government of Turai’s corrupt attempts to get her elected head of the international wizard’s guild in Thraxas and the Sorcerers is a masterpiece of very dark comedy.
Makri, haf-orc, half-elf, half-human (wait a minute!) barbarian is a former gladiator whose escape from the orcish slave pits resulted in such legendary carnage that the orcs still speak of it with awe. She is also an idealistic young woman in pursuit of higher education in a corrupt and sexist city which enthusiastically despises education (or any other form of right) for women. She earns her living as a waitress at the Avenging Axe clad in a chainmail bikini for the encouragement of tips, surely the most sensible use of that particular cliche in the whole of sword and sorcery.
Gurd, mighty barbarian warrior, has spent the past decade trying to find a way to confess his unrequited love for Tanrose, cook at the Avenging Axe and maker of the best venison pie in the city. The books bubble over with a horde of minor characters just as memorable and engaging and a web of relationships joins all the characters that is often unexpectedly touching.
Turai is as much a character as anyone else in the books, a very decadent place, a mixture of Lankhmar, Rome and every D&D city you ever played a game in. It’s a place under constant threat of Orcish invasion, where schools of warrior monks fight secret wars, the chariot races are fixed using magic and there’s no end of crime, drug and magic-related and otherwise. It’s a fine place to visit as a reader but you would not want to live there.
The comedy does not get in the way of a good story either. The adventures of Thraxas and Makri as they attempt to clear their clients, in the face of determined opposition from monsters, assassins, politicians, orcish spies, mages, one or both of the two local thieves guilds make riveting reads.
All nine of the Thraxas books are available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and I urge you to take a look at them. You wont regret it if you have any interest at all in comedy, fantasy or sword and sorcery.