"In this debut novel, a so-called royal hero reflects on his life as upheaval awaits on the horizon... The winning difference here is the author’s tone, which would make the foulmouthed, fourth wall–smashing Marvel character Deadpool proud... a cavalcade of gonzo exploits. Readers will likely return for the sequel."
-- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
What do you get when you throw The Lord of the Rings, Catch-22, Monty Python, and Hunter S. Thompson into a blender? An epic fantasy novel that goes to 11.
Low-level adventurer Elberon of the Isles has a problem. Through a chance encounter with a mysterious woman, he’s come into possession of a horned skull that keeps screaming at him—and whenever it screams, it summons hordes of monsters to kill him.Even worse, this screaming skull may in fact be the very skull of the Deathless One, the dark wizard who last appeared five hundred years ago to conquer the Free Kingdoms. Can Elberon and his friends learn the secret of the Screaming Skull before the evil forces arrayed against them can kill him dead? And more importantly, where can a simple fighter get a stiff drink around here?
The Screaming Skull is the first volume of the epic and hilarious heavy-metal fantasy trilogy The Chronicles of Elberon. If you like fantasy heroes who curse like sailors, party like rock stars, and battle vicious Hellspawn, time-traveling dragons, and a terrifying Rat King, then you’ll love Rick Ferguson’s epic tale of high adventure that turns the fantasy fiction genre on its head.
In this debut novel, a so-called royal hero reflects on his life as upheaval awaits on the horizon.
King Elberon, lord of the Tradewind Isles, is about to turn 65 years old. He’s led an illustrious life of adventure and just learned from his friend Wilberd, who glanced through the Astral Telescope at the monarch’s future, that he’ll live to be 130. Yet Elberon thinks mainly of the companions who’ll attend his birthday party in nine days, including the warrior Amabored and his former love Melinda the Blade. “When I finally get them all together,” he thinks, “I’m going to kill every last one of them.” He then begins detailing his youth among the Free Kingdoms of the Woerth and even the Multiverse after he told his father, King Olderon, that he wanted to visit Redhauke, a cosmopolitan city ripe with crime and opportunity. There, he met Amabored, the elf Lithaine, and the mage Redulfo. Given additional strength by the Girdle of Gargantua, Elberon joined the trio, and they became guards for Saggon, Over-Boss of the Thieves Guild. But Saggon’s shipments of pipeweed contained a secret over which Melinda battled the group. During this time, Elberon first encountered the Screaming Skull (when Melinda attacked him with it) and became embroiled in closing the Hellmouth beneath the Blue Falcon Inn. Later, he drank a concoction called the Flaming Telepath, which brought him to the First Universe and a meeting with Jo Ki-Rin, a chimerical creature who warned that Elberon must accept a quest to save all of creation.
The “monomyth” at the core of Ferguson’s series opener is the same one that fuels innumerable fantasies, from Tolkien’s work to the Star Wars series. The winning difference here is the author’s tone, which would make the foulmouthed, fourth wall–smashing Marvel character Deadpool proud. Elberon calls Woerth a “chamber pot of competing cultures and religions from dozens of different universes.” This gives the author the widest possible canvas on which to scribble his own multicolored brand of mayhem—and the narrative leeway to quote Pulp Fiction. He discusses not only the Multiverse, wherein, most likely, “some pimply teenaged loser sits in his parents’ basement drawing” dungeons “on graph paper and randomly inserting monsters, traps, and treasure,” but also author Michael Moorcock, who deals vibrantly with alternate realities in his Elric series. Even Ferguson’s key villain, Koscheis, has echoes in “Sauron, Voldemort, Lord Foul...or Vladimir Putin.” This isn’t to say that the story is complete silliness. The prose frequently lets rip some epic imagery, as when “a house-sized mushroom cloud of napalm condensed out of the atmosphere, balled itself up into a miniature sun, and surged forth with a massive sonic boom.” And while the main characters riff humorously on archetypes—and the minor ones mock everything else (Father Frito of Lay, for example)—they experience events deeply. Elberon’s regret over cheating on average Melinda with gorgeous Cassiopeia brings humanity to a cavalcade of gonzo exploits. Readers will likely return for the sequel, perhaps more for the king’s unpredictable narration than the plot itself.
A joyously coarse and self-aware epic fantasy.