Book Review: Mountain of Daggers

In the process of getting back into tabletop RPGs, I discovered a few YouTube channels that I have gotten a great deal of enjoyment out of.  Most folks know Matt Colville, because Dungeons & Dragons has always been the most popular game and he’s probably the most popular D&D related channel after whatever Matt Mercer is doing.  And Colville is great.  He’s got lots of practical advice that goes beyond D&D, lots of stories, and some glimpses into the history of the hobby that are fascinating.  However, it was with Seth Skorkowsky that I found a kindred spirit.  He’s got some D&D on there, but he’s got a lot of Call of Cthulhu and Cyberpunk 2020, which is much more my speed, and has been diving into Traveller over the last year or two, a game I’ve always circled around but never played.  Turns out, Skorkowsky is an author by profession.  So, I figured I should give his work a try.

Mountain of Daggers is a collection of short stories following Ahren as he joins and climbs the ranks of a thieves’ guild called Tyenee.  Over the course of the book, he goes from young rapscallion to a more calculating and somewhat hardened character while taking on the identity of the Black Raven.  I really enjoy the Black Raven stuff, where the name and the myth surrounding the name exists almost separate from Ahren. He finds and loses love, makes enemies and allies, and gets into all kinds of trouble.

Skorkowsky is very open about having been heavily influenced by Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories, though he has his own style and doesn’t simply ape Leiber.  He also mixes in a lot of Eastern European flare, from names to environments (and then there’s that one city Ahren keeps returning to that is clearly Venice).  That, combined with the thievery, started putting me in mind of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing and Blades in the Dark. So it made me chuckle when in the middle of my reading of the book, he did a live stream where he specifically mentioned having never played either game.  Great minds. 

This is the kind of Fantasy where magic is uncommon, but ever present.  Cities feel like they’re under a supernatural shadow and the night is filled with terrors.  In that sense, it’s a bit like Conan tales, too.  Magic and weirdness lurk behind every turn, yet isn’t typically the focal point of the story.

I knew that Skorkowsky could spin a good yarn, but that doesn’t always mean someone can write as well.  Thankfully, he can.  The action scenes (often centered around heists) are thrilling.  The characters may not be deep and nuanced (these are short stories), but they are compelling.  The pace and writing style are easy and the pages just melt away.  Good stuff.  I’ve already got the second book on my Kindle, though it’ll be a bit before I get to it.  Highly recommended.

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