Off the Shelf

“Shadows of Sanctuary”

By Marcus Pan

Shadows of SanctuaryWho hasn’t heard of the Thieves World series of pulp fantasy from the 80s? Anybody who even so much as looked at a Dungeons & Dragons module must have, that’s pretty clear. Robert Asprin’s franchised universe became almost as big as, say, Dragonlance or The Forgottom Realms for a time, with fantasy’s heavy hitters of the time adding more to the series as time moved on.

Shadows of Sanctuary is the third such installment of stories about a thieving little Rankin town. We’ll find ourselves once again in the streets of Sanctuary itself, or visiting the Vulgar Unicorn and from there traipsing about The Maze. Shadowspawn, Tempus and Jubal the Slaver returns to lead us on journeys through the town – never wandering beyond Sanctuary’s streets.

There are seven more stories here, plus an introduction by the world’s creator, Robert Asprin, and a closing essay by Lynn Abbey, avid fan and provider of further stories (her Then Azyuna Danced story appears in this volume). Of the seven, about a third aren’t that great, another third are decent enough to hold your interest and the latter third are gems in the rough. Asprin’s own A Gift in Parting is one of the latter forms, with a moralistic story not unlike my own Serpent’s Inn series. Adrew Offutt’s Vivisectionist is another of these, with very macabre backgrounds and dark imagery detailing an adventure where a thief, Shadowspawn, breaks into the home of Kurd to rescue the knight Tempus at the behest of Prince-Governor Kadakithis. There he finds all assortments of dissected people – Kurd’s experiments. While the story takes a bit to warm up, with some long areas of uninteresting conversation (to a Sanctuary newbie, anyway) about past deeds, friendships and shady deals, once it moves to the break-in the story gets pleasantly grotesque.

Many of the work here in Shadows of Sanctuary suffer from the teenagerish-writing style that a lot of pulp falls victim to. It’s almost as if some of the author’s vocabulary doesn’t extend beyond your average fourteen year old game player. I demand a little more sometimes, and that’s why Ischade (C.J. Cherryh), Looking for Satan (Vonda N. McIntyre) and Then Azyuna Danced (Lynn Abbey) didn’t get me going all that well. The latter could have been a great something – the ritual to Vashanka that was performed around the dance of goddess Azyuna started as a very dark and possibly interesting story. But with the innuendos of misdeeds that went on between royalty and clergy and heroes, the story falters – and the story around the ritual and what was to have happened and even if what did happen was done right was very poorly explained and left me wondering, frankly, what the fuck just happened. Badly explained, with too much stock in the idea that the reader has read all the other Thieves World books and even the mythologies and sociologies behind it was given. Maybe even a bit presumptuous.

Another gem you’ll find, however, is Diana L. Paxson’s The Rhinocerous and the Unicorn, a classic story of “be careful what you wish for.” Very well thought out, interesting characters and an even better way of resolving the “curse” and turning it into a blessing is found here. A wonderful read. Meanwhile, the closing essay, Things the Editor Never Told Me by Lynn Abbey, was cute, off the cuff and well written, giving a little bit of the history around the Thieves World series as well as the difficulties for writing within a franchised universe where things are only discovered as the authors build on one another’s work. It has an excellent take on the vulgarity within as well and the reason why the Thieves World volumes tend to curl the toes of even the darkest fantasy writers of the time.

Overall? If you’re looking for a decent universe to explore in your reading time, and you’ve already gone through Dragonlance, Middle Earth, The Forgotton Realms and other similar volumes that have made a stronger mark on the fantasy and science fiction landscape, then maybe give Asprin’s Thieves World a try. Cheesy by today’s standards, but quite good, on the whole, for a series to come out at its time.

“Shadows of Sanctuary” edited by Robert Lynn Asprin
Copyright © 1981 by Robert Lynn Asprin
“Looking for Satan” © 1981 by Vonda McIntyre
“Ischade” © 1981 by C. J. Cherryh
“A Gift in Parting” © 1981 by Robert Asprin
“The Vivisectionist” © 1981 by Andrew J. Offutt
“The Rhinoceros and the Unicorn” © 1981 by Diana L. Paxson
“Then Azyuna Danced” © 1981 by Lynn Abbey
“A Man and His God” © 1981 by Janet Morris
“Things the Editor Never Told Me” © 1981 by Lynn Abbey
An ACE Book
ISBN: 0441760279

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