THE HOLLOW KINGS and INSTANT CARNAGE AND THE SECRET OF RUNIC STEEL, by Christopher Heath.
In this volume, Heath gives us two fine stories for the price of one, and both are well worth your reading time.
In The Hollow Kings, Brom returns home from his studies in Moongoth after the death of his father, Braln, King of Ar'uuk, the Bear Clan. Now that he is clan-king and wields Avva'rin, his father's sword, Brom has to prove himself to, and win the respect of his people. To further complicate matters, he must also accept the challenge of the fierce and fierce-looking Kossk of the Wolf Clan, who seeks to merge the two clans under his leadership. (And when I say "fierce-looking," I mean it. This guy has to be "seen" with your own eyes to be believed.) The winner gets to rule the united clans; the loser, of course, dies. Oh, one other thing: this Kossk is one tough SOB who slew the Wythrin Witch, who then cursed him with a deformity that didn't interfere with his strength. Ah, but there is something more going on here, as well. Brom's duel to death with Kossk, fought without swords or any other conventional weapon, is brutal and exciting and well written, and reveals a nice twist in the plot: the true nature of Kossk. But that's not quite the end of the tale, for there is a second "twist" that you won't see coming.
My favorite of the two tales is Instant Carnage and the Secret of Runic Steel, wherein we find a more introspective King Brom. In this one, Brom's people are being hunted and slain by Barshakk, the Demon Bear to whom the clan swears fealty. The question is why is the clan's "totem" killing those who pay him homage? Many among his clan believe that Barshakk is preying upon them because Brom is unworthy to be king. Thus it falls to Brom to seek out and confront the Demon Bear, to destroy him if he is indeed the one committing the murders. Now, Brom's friend Oktuun suggests he seek the shaman Vo-kan for aid. Problem is, Vo-kan was banished by Braln, Brom's father, long ago for making demands the late king did not quite agree with. So Brom sets forth to find Vo-kan, and what he asks of the shaman, and what the shaman wants in return is at the heart of this solid little tale. The final confrontation between Brom and the Demon Bear is clever as well as exciting, with a few unexpected elements and another nice twist in the plot. There's also a little surprise that ties this story to The Hollow Kings.
I like Chris Heath's style and his world of Azieran. He has a sure hand for writing action, a fine eye for detail, a clever way with plots, and a talent for developing great characters and dialog that not only move the plot forward but reveal the "inner-workings" of his characters. I look forward to reading more of his work. Visit Chris Heath's website at: http://heathenoracle.weebly.com