First, the poetry. "Ansel's Army" by Elizabeth Barrette describes a rebellion of adherents to an old religion against the armed invaders bringing a new one. To me, it reads like a commentary on the Druids and the Christians. The poem is well composed and solid, and the language is fresh. Though I do not hold with either side -- either paganism or "Christianity" imposed at the tip of a sword -- I can appreciate a well-told story, and the notion that ideas are most persuasive when lived rather than pushed.
Another poem, "Leo Passimus Remembers His First Voyage" by Danny Adams, is a wanderer's recollections of fantastic journeys, none of which compare to what he left behind:
But you, my love, at every sunset
Your hair spilled across the world’s shoulders,
* * *
Will I take any more voyages?, you asked
Before I left on this ill-starred sail.
No, tonight my wanderlust is smoke
Here many trips removed, stranded –
Wishing I’d made you the only oracle I desired.
I like this poem. It's full of wonder and melancholy, and makes me wish some fantastical tales really were true. Great inspiration for a writer.And now the fiction -- three short offerings.
"The Black Flowers of Sevan" by James Lecky is unexpected. The ending is not telegraphed by the beginning, though elements of the end are very much present. We begin with Tulun and Abbas engaged in a game of strategy and then in a wager:
There are swords and severed heads and a sad-eyed lady, an amiable but evil king, a chamber of secrets (that has nothing to do with a certain boy wizard), and a twist of an ending. I enjoyed the story, but felt a little cheated, too. Can't quite articulate why -- it's just a gut feeling.
“What is the wager?” I asked.
“A simple but entertaining one.” He sat down at the low table and looked me in the eye. “I wager that you cannot bring me a flower plucked from the Melik’s palace.”
“Only that?” It would be a difficult — but not impossible — wager to win. Valerian Bal was well known, indeed mocked in some circles, for the beauty of his gardens.
“Not quite. I require a very specific bloom to fulfill all conditions of our bet.”
“A black poppy from around the neck of the Lady Shimshal.”
In "Man of Moldania" by Richard Marsden,
Golorus von Zekwit, last surviving member of the Most Catholic Order of the Claws and probably the last dragon slayer in existence, stared at the crude map, glancing up with a furrow of a white brow to take in the sight of the town.This one had me smiling, not because it's meant to be comic, but because of Golorus himself. There's a bit of tongue-in-cheek slyness about him, and a world-weary honesty, and this tale of the last dragon slayer is the most entertaining of the three stories in this issue.
Brother battles brother in "Beyond the Lizard Gate" by Alex Marshall, as Inarus and Agenor struggle for supremacy:
But just then Inarus had heard the peal of trumpets above the din and the ground shook with the rumble of hooves. From a cloud of dust at the valley’s western end, four thousand knights of Novgorand thundered into the enemy’s rear, the horsemen a glittering wedge that clove the squalling dragomen like a steel-prowed ship forging through a darkly boiling sea.
That action marked the tide’s turning, but still Agenor escaped him! As Inarus’ army rallied with new heart and new strength in their killing arms, the winds died, the doom-laden atmosphere lifted, and Agenor was gone — passing like night before the implacable face of dawn.
This is a story steeped in necromancy and revenge. The former doesn't interest me, but the latter can make for strong conflict and intriguing tales. Revenge is a strong drink, and those bent on it rarely heed warnings to the contrary, and often to their doom. In this story, however dark the ending, there is still a glimmer of light.
So, what's my overall opinion of this first outing by Heroic Fantasy Quarterly? Pretty solid. I look forward to reading more, and hope the magazine continues strong, fueled by more quality writing.
artwork c. Justin Sweet