Matthew Hughes’ 9 Tales of Raffalon is a collection of short stories, all featuring professional thief Raffalon. Raffalon lives in a time and place not unlike Jack Vance’s Dying Earth . Magic is commonplace, as are ways for a man of flexible ethics to enrich himself. Or, as Raffalon so often discovers, ways to get himself into trouble.
Introduction: Life of a Rogue
Hughes explains Raffalon’s origins; he was created as a Cugelesque character for a Gardner Dozois anthology. Hughes liked the rogue and so we have nine stories about him rather than just one.
Wearaway and Flambeau
Strong-armed into attempting to burgle Hurdevant Ironhand, Raffalon discovers too late that his preparations were insufficient. On the plus side, Ironhand does not intend to keep Raffalon prisoner long. On the minus, this is only because the wizard plans to teleport a flaming Raffalon into the stronghold of the rival behind the attempted theft. Stacking spell on spell is difficult; the wizard can be forgiven for failing to predict the complications that ensue.
Like Beowulf Shaffer , Raffalon is smart enough to improvise his way out of certain doom, but not smart enough to avoid needing to do so on a regular basis. I would not sell him life insurance.
Stones and Glass
Having acquired (at some difficulty) a trove of bogus weft stones to sell to a conclave of weft-stone fanciers, Raffalon is peeved to discover that the conclave has been dissolved. More alarmingly, even as Raffalon manoeuvres to entice his intended victims into one final gathering, Cascor, a former lawman personally inconvenienced by Raffalon’s bold thefts, is not so much closing in on Raffalon as sitting across the table from him.
It’s a good thing for Raffalon that people in Dying Earth settings are focused on self-interest to the exclusion of pettier concerns like the law or justice, because that means there’s always the possibility of cutting a deal. Of course, it also means one cannot trust any business partner not to screw one over if that’s more convenient.
While all-too-boldly exploring a new town, Raffalon is arrested and sold as a slave. Raffalon manages to discourage the woman who wants to buy him as a sex slave; moreover, he is not sent to the mines. Luck? Not really. His new owner is only interested in him as bait.…
The woman who wants to purchase Raffalon does not come off well. Shame that she’s the first woman of note to appear in the series.
Prisoner of Pandarius
Irked that The Ancient and Honorable Guild of Purloiners and Purveyors has tilted towards the best interests of the Purveyors, Raffalon takes on a task for Cascor, former lawman and enemy, who can at least be trusted. [Editor’s note: really?] It is a task that will cast light on much that is puzzling.
The occasional lapse aside, this world’s guilds seem to be pretty reliable organizations. They’re not just in the business of moving money from the rank and file to the magnates. Given that every character we’ve met so far seems to entirely lack morals, that’s a bit odd.
Speaking of odd things, this is a world rich in deadly magic … yet people do not treat unfamiliar objects as if they might be unexploded bombs. One would expect natural selection would favour the cautious.
Curse of the Myrmelon
Hired to remove a curse, Cascor uncovers something worse, something that could easily result in his own premature demise.
Here, Raffalon appears as Cascor’s trusted consultant.
Teleported to an unfamiliar village, Raffalon can tell that he been sent to be bait in some particularly unpleasant trap. Survival requires working out a lot more than that.
This is the first story in which a woman plays a significant supporting role. I could complain that she’s a rather flawed character but — this is a decaying world where all of the truly innocent characters were murdered ages ago.
Raffalon’s survival depends on answering two questions: who has he annoyed sufficiently to point an assassin at him? And why does the assassin keep missing?
Huzzah! A woman who is actually a rather sympathetic figure, leaving aside her vocation for stealing and her avocation of silent murder. And her role in the deaths of thousands of people, which, after all, was not her fault.
Raffalon’s outsized proboscis has long been a burden to him. Now it may be his death.
The Inn of the Seven Blessings
Raffalon knows better than to try to rescue strangers in the woods, but the god possessing the unlucky thief insists on instant action.
Raffalon is, I think, supposed to be a lovable rogue. Pity he considers at one point whether he and the man he rescues can overpower and rape the woman he reluctantly rescues. Nothing comes of it but still.…
Either the events at the end of the story preclude further Raffalon stories or the treasures he gains will prove to have hidden drawbacks.
Don’t go into this expecting Raffalon to have an epiphany that transforms him into a nice person. Even as rogues go, he’s not an especially lovable person, although he is at least clear-eyed enough to see that self-interest is served by being a man of his word to his fellow criminals and that backstabbing would only come back to haunt him. If you’re looking for a character a bit more villainous than Dortmunder but not quite as hard nosed as Parker, then Raffalon may be the one you are looking for.
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