If you always play a bard in D&D, I’ve got some books for you.
If you always play a bard, you’ve probably got your own way of saying what it means to be one and why you like it so much. I’ve established before that I always play a rogue, but as a writer, I imagine there’s a thrill to reshaping the D&D game around you through the power of story and rhyme and rhythm that comes with the Bard class.
In the words of D&D Beyond, “[W]ords and music are not just vibrations of air, but vocalizations with power all their own. The bard is a master of song, speech, and the magic they contain.”
While I’m not alone in occasionally poking fun at Bard players (just look up the definition of ‘Badinage’–it’s how they approach the game), the way they playfully question their settings and affect change without a traditional weapon is truly at the heart of table-top roleplaying. These next two recommendations are for you who appreciate the innovation required to simultaneously honor lore and speak it anew.
Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico by David Bowles
You ever get goosebumps when you read good poetry? I cry–weird as it is, I really just get teary-eyed from joy when the words on the page flow in a way that delights me. I teared up when I first read this book.
Bowles read the classics like Beowulf and The Odyssey and yet “he had never read a single Aztec or Mayan myth until he was in college.” He set out to weave together in splendid bardic fashion the stories of Mexico. From the two brothers at the beginning of creation (and who make up the book’s name) to the Spanish invasion and resultant destruction, you’ll be inspired by how Feathered Serpent is so real and relatable while simultaneously fantastical and immersive.
Each section of the book opens with a Convocation. At the end of the final one, titled Conquest and Courage: “And if you look closely at our palimpsest souls, you can see the ghostly tracings of all we ever were, indelible if faint, ready to be read again by open hearts and minds” (Bowles, p 241).
Bowles, like all bards who deserve the word, seems very aware of the ways that both the past and present warp the world we see and the stories that ‘matter.’ He shows this awareness obviously in his mission to shed light on Mesoamerican tales.
Additionally, even when dealing with cultures and time periods which skewed patriarchal roles, Bowles’ Feathered Serpent did an incredible job of including and honoring the legacies of women, my favorite being horse-taming (and traitor-stomping) Erendira.
Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
I know I said I have ‘books’ for you, but this wouldn’t be a list for bards without breaking the prose mold a little; this one’s a webcomic.
At first, I was trepidatious because Lore Olympus is a re-telling of many Greek myths but primarily Persephone’s Abduction. And hello, Greek myths are full of violent, male-dominated storylines that make my skin crawl. I was also on the fence about the art style.
I was happy my gut was wrong on both points. The art style grew on me and is refreshingly different from prominent styles elsewhere.
And so far, the author effectively uses content warnings at the beginnings of chapters that have sexual assault or partner abuse. The series isn’t over, but that sensitive topics like those were my biggest concern with a Greek storyline. Personally, I can handle that content sometimes if I know it’s coming and in what shape it will be. This is not Game of Thrones.
More importantly, however, Lore Olympus opens up those very criticisms I have of the old myths, re-centers them, and allows us to experience difficult topics under a modern lens. I love how the author stares down (and nails down) the characteristics of so many figures we’re familiar with in Greek mythology–like Hecate and Apollo (helpful spoiler: he does not look good here), and refashions them as part of a dynamic story. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either– The Jim Henson Company has announced plans to develop an animated adaptation of Lore Olympus.
Finally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an OTP that was so OTP in just the dialogue and body language. The connection between Persephone and Hades reads so realistically it’s addictive.
About this Column: With occasional parentheticals a la Robin McKinley, If This, Then That connects the dots between niche interests for LSQ readers and the books that suit them.