Niall of the Far Travels by Gardner F. Fox – A Review of the Collection
First things first – the editing is the worst I have ever seen in a printed work. The front page refers to the process as “digitally transcribed” and maybe there is a difference between that and actual editing. But at any rate, the publisher should be ashamed. Virtually every single page has multiple misspellings or syntax errors or simple mistakes like extra quotation marks. Some paragraph spacings are omitted. After a while, the brain adjusts and you can plow forward in reading, but it is sad to see so many simple errors in a published work. At some point, a real editor should have had the chance to look at this manuscript.
So – Niall. The stories are not as great as I remember from reading them in Dragon Magazine. They are decent, and I am glad I re-read them, but they are too often solved by hand-waving from the gods. That is a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.
Because Niall’s lover is Emalkartha the Evil, a goddess of demons, or at least her human form as Lylthia. I like the passion they have for each other, it comes across as real. But pretty much every story has her granting him her divine protections in order to survive his ordeals. While he is a great warrior, and that is shown as much as being told, only a few of the stories are resolved by his own abilities.
The quality of the writing is pretty good. Fox had a reputation as being a hack writer, and there a few convincing examples of this (I read one of his Kothar novels where the ancient city they are traveling to changes names halfway into the story). He relies on a few tropes and sayings to fill some space. If he were writing today, he probably would not have been as successful, as the quality of the writing in today’s crowded markets is much higher.
Despite this, I still like Niall, and his tales. My teen-aged self loved the cover to Dragon #38 and the depiction of Lylthia, and Niall looked different from other barbarian heroes. I guess that is why these stories took on a large prominence in my mind. Reading them today, they are not great, but they’re OK. None of them stand out as being really strong tales individually, but there are quite a few scenes and passages that are memorable. And they have a vitality that I find missing from most of the better-written fiction of today.
I’m glad I got the collection; but the lack of editing is a travesty.