Brian Daley was a science fiction and fantasy author with a great talent for painting worlds with words – his own worlds, or those of others. He was probably best-known personally as the writer of three Han Solo novels (I believe the first three published, aside from Splinter of the Mind's Eye), and most successful as one-half of Jack McKinney, the author of the Robotech novelizations. He died, unfortunately, in the middle of his career, victim of cancer at the age of 49.
I, however, remember him for two original series: Coramonde, and the Floyt/Fitzhugh "Third Breath" series (which I will discuss in a later post).
Coramonde was a dualogy – two book series, comprised of Doomfarers of Coramonde and Starfollowers of Coramonde – whose major action took place in "The Crescent Lands" which included the titular country of Coramonde but also several others. It begins in a fairly standard fashion – young prince finding that he is in danger because his stepmother wishes him out of the way in favor of her own true son (and, perhaps, at the behest of the court wizard), and barely making an escape and starting on his way to becoming his own man.
There are some lovely details that make even this standard opening well worth reading; the clear diversity of the world and politics, of customs and even costumes that serve plot as well as background purposes, the existence of other creatures besides humans within this royal court, and so on. So I was quite enjoying the book from the start.
And then Prince Springbuck's new allies, the wizards Andre and Gabrielle DeCourtney, summon a new weapon to oppose a dragon that the aforementioned court wizard is sending to destroy the nascent rebellion.
What they summon is a fully-operational, fully crewed Armored Personnel Carrier from the Vietnam War.
At that point I was completely hooked, and connected strongly to Gil MacDonald, the sergeant in charge of the APC Lobo, who is forced to deal with this completely insane situation. This wasn't because MacDonald was in any way a good match for me in personality; he was a Vietnam vet with emotional issues and a much darker view of the world in many ways. It was because Daley got across both the feeling of wrenching displacement and of a sudden feeling of rightness that connected Gil himself to the universe of Coramonde.
Not that Gil realizes this connection immediately, as he's first faced with someone using some kind of mumbo-jumbo to summon an air elemental that nearly tips Lobo over, and then informed that his real opponent will be the dragon "Chaffinch"; said battle is one of the most fast-paced and accurate depictions of heroic fog-of-war I've ever read, in which the terror of facing a superior foe combined with the sudden elation of winning are brought out brilliantly.
Doomfarers of Coramonde and its sequel Starfollowers of Coramonde were wonderful balances of world and character, with the depth of the world bringing out the motivations of the characters, and the specific behavior and personalities of the characters often reinforcing the depth of the world. Characters also develop and change considerably throughout the novels, ranging from Prince Springbuck who goes from rather sheltered and cautious bookish prince (who is also nearsighted!) to a courageous, thoughtful, and dangerous ruler, to Gil MacDonald, who goes through at least three major character transitions in the course of the two books.
This is astonishing, since Doomfarers was Daley's first published work. I've read far worse from long-established and highly competent authors. Doomfarers was also one of the first, if not the first, crossover fantasies in which the crossing-over parties were allowed to use what they brought with them to its full extent. Many crossover fantasies find some way to, in gaming terms, "nerf" the advantages of someone coming to a semi-medieval universe from our own. Either they can't bring anything with them (for instance, Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series) or something happens to make modern tech not terribly useful or functional (going at least back to Fletcher Pratt and Sprague deCamp's "Incompleat Enchanter").
In the Coramonde books, by contrast, Gil MacDonald is not only able to use what he brings from our world, but is encouraged to bring back anything he thinks will be of use, and much of it is – not just the obvious advantages of some modern weapons, but more importantly information on strategy, tactics, and so on. It's not perfectly usable, because the transition to the world of Coramonde apparently changes you so that the language of Coramonde is your native tongue. Unfortunately that means that books written in our English become foreign-language books you'd have to learn to translate again! Still, Gil's gadgetry and knowledge are used to a great extent in the book.
In some ways, though, one of the strongest features of the Coramonde books was the main antagonist, the brilliant and devious sorcerer Yardiff Bey (whom I suspect was named as a riff on the character Ardeth Bey in the various old-style Mummy movies). Bey is one of the bad guys who has apparently read at least part of the Evil Overlord's list; he's more than capable of abandoning a plan that's gone south, even abandoning an entire stronghold to the enemy. He's also smart enough to even find some way to convince his masters that they should forgive failure… and given how his masters are depicted, this is no small feat. Bey is not only smart, he is physically capable and ingenious in his use of magic – sometimes in manners that are very much like those of technology (he creates a mystical flying machine of amazing capabilities, for instance).
The adventures depicted in the Coramonde books are all well-paced and thought out, and have many "Crowning Moments of Awesome" throughout; perhaps my favorite is one in which Reacher ("Lord of the Just and Sudden Reach") confronts and faces down an entire army all by himself… and you believe it.
These books are, fortunately, available again, in what appears to be a trade paperback form as well as Kindle editions. If fantasy adventure is your thing, pick up the Coramonde books; they'll be well worth your time.