CINCINNATI - A fantasy tale given to family and friends on a young author's last Christmas 25 years ago has won recognition usually reserved for mainstream books.
Will Allen wrote his final story, filled with magic, heroes, villains and a lot of humor, after being diagnosed with cancer. Two years ago, his brother, Paul, began editing, typing, publishing and marketing the manuscript, despite knowing little at first about the book business.
"I never really thought about publishing Swords for Hire until I began reading it aloud to my daughters and realized just how good it was and how much I wanted other people to enjoy my brother's humor and spirit," said Mr. Allen, a marketing consultant from the suburb of Mariemont.
The 168-page book, aimed primarily at young readers ages 9 and up, has achieved stature that does not often come to self-published or small-press books.
Swords for Hire was selected No. 2 on the American Booksellers Association's most recent Book Sense Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Picks selected by independent booksellers nationwide, and it received a Writer's Digest Magazine national award. The book also won the fantasy/science fiction category in the 2004 Independent Publisher Book Awards announced in June at BookExpo America in Chicago.
Those awards are open to all independent publishers in North America, a group that ranges from major university presses to self publishers.
Voice of Youth Advocates magazine, a journal for librarians, educators and other professionals who work with young adults, included Swords for Hire in its Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror List released in April.
"I think the high rating it got from our reviewer speaks to its excellence," said Linda Benson, the journal's book-review editor. "I was really blown away by its success so many years after it was written."
Rollicking, hilarious and delightful are adjectives that keep popping up in reviews of the comic adventure tale chronicling the exploits of 16-year-old Sam Hatcher and wisecracking, misfit soldier Rigby Skeet. They struggle to save the rightful king of Parmall from the dungeon, where his scheming brother imprisoned him under the evil watch of the Boneman.
Along the way, the two unlikely heroes encounter a sorcerer, secret passageways, sword fights and even a maiden in need of rescue. Reviewers have said the book includes many of the traditional elements of fairy tales infused with a blend of humor, irony and suspense that can appeal to readers of all ages.