Review: Augustus Seton Collected Chronicles, William Meikle, 2015.
I didn’t have high hopes for this one given the rather bad cover art and that it’s not even listed as a book on the author’s website.
Still, it is Meikle fiction set in Scotland, and it does have one of the Seton clan who show up in so many Meikle stories.
I was actually pleasantly surprised.
I’m not going to cover every story in detail. One reason is that, like Joel Jenkins’ Lone Crow series, that would give a sense of repetition you don’t feel when reading it. The second reason is that I also don’t want to spoil any surprises. We’ll get to the third reason.
There are vampires, werewolves, water gods, warlocks, the Reaper, beasts in the mountains and more here. In essence, these are sword-and-sorcery stories set in late 16th century Scotland.
The opening story is the excellent “Cold as Death”, Augustus Seton’s origin story. In a moment of idle chat in a tavern when they were young, Seton and his friend Duncan sold their souls to a “wee auld man”. Both got what they wanted. Seton got any woman he wanted (which turned out to not be that many), and Duncan got his kingdom and castle. But the ten-year contract is up, and the Reaper has come to collect Duncan’s soul – because Seton has renegotiated his contract and taken possession of a vampiric blade. Not named, it of course reminds you of Stormbringer, the sword of Michael Moorcock’s Elric, but the relationship between Seton and his blade is not the same. It’s a noble and moving story.
I especially liked a couple of other stories.
Seton is hired to get rid of some beast attacking Glenmore Castle and killing its inhabitants in “The Auld Grey Man”. We begin to learn why people are starting to be fearful of Seton. The ending, while kind of predictable, was still poignant.
“Serpent” shows Seton finally getting close to another woman, a witch. But is she going to stick around him when she finds out what kind of man he’s become?
While I recommend this collection, I will give a couple of caveats.
And now we get to that third reason for me not covering every story. This collection works better as an introduction to Meikle than coming to it, like I did, after reading a bunch of other Meikle stories. Why? Because there are a lot of scenes, bits of dialogue, plots, and images that are present in other Meikle works. Specifically, there are repetitions of some of the Derek Adams stories (Seton spends some time as a sort of 16th century private eye), the Watchers trilogy, Ramskull, and Eldren – The Book of the Dark. I hasten to add that all except one of the stories works as drama. They have action, wonder, and Seton is an interesting character.
I can only speculate the reasons for the repetition. Reworking of earlier material for another market? Forced recycling due to the pressure of producing on a professional schedule? Thematic variations? Source material that was originally rejected for publication so partially reworked and then the original source finding a market (professional or self-published)?
One story seems to be definitely connected to a greater Meikle Mythos. As one reviewer has suggested, what I see as repetitions can be seen as webs of connection.
There are two stories that are spoiled by anachronisms because they seem imperfect retroconversions of Derek Adams stories, the 21st century brought jarringly into the 16th. Blue hair on a woman? How? A storekeeper wearing bondage gear with piercings? And, no, these are not decadent or magical characters. They are portrayed as being non-magical folk.
That said, I would certainly read more adventures with Augustus Seton and enjoyed this collection.