|Art by Takeshi Oga|
"The Wizard's House" by Stephen Case (8107 words)
This story seems solidly fantasy, the start of something big, epic. It has the taste of most standard conventions, a boy finding an item of power, of being threatened by a newer, outsider force. Of having to make a deal to save his family. Of being attached to a different power. This could be any of a hundred different fantasy novels, and yet it's also an interesting and original setting. I really liked the idea of the new god, this thing full of eyes that is growing in power, that might have the power to effect not only the present, but perhaps the past. Interesting work, and I just love the world-building, the way everything flows together. It's an elegant story, and though it might be a bit standard in its approach, that doesn't make it bad or not memorable. I like the main character, like the Wizard's house and helpers. The visuals are neat and the magic and the history of the story seem real and layered. I would definitely read this book, read it because it seems fun and offers a world that I think would be fun to explore. There are hints of darkness, of things to come, but this is rather a tried and true boy entering into a fantasy journey kind of story. And it's well done, entertaining and complex enough to keep my interest throughout.
"The King in the Cathedral" by Rich Larson (5664 words)
A story about an exiled king determined to play games for the rest of his life, this one is also rather charming. When a woman is sent to "service" the king only to find out that he doesn't care for the company of women, routine is shattered when the woman reveals she's actually a member of a resistance movement sent to help the king escape and retake his throne. At first, though, the king is disinterested in such theatrics. To him, a king is a king, and while the current ruler might seem bad, he's similar to all those that came before and might come after. The king is much more content to simply keep playing games with his automation jailer, Otto. So the women readies herself to leave, which is certain death without a guide through the desert. The king ends up playing a game with Otto. If he wins, the automation will have to take the woman through the desert. But that's not quite all. Because the king does win, and Otto knows that if it accompanies the woman back to civilization, it won't be able to return. I liked the story, but there were parts I wasn't quite sure about. In some ways it seems to be saying that there is no difference in who rules. That kings are kings. On the other hand, it seems to be saying that kings who rule for their people, out of a genuine regard for them, make better rulers. But I don't know if the story really questions the rule of kings. There is still a sense that the king is the rightful, fated ruler, and in some ways he's stepping back into his role. That he would make a better ruler isn't really in question. That he should rule is, at least for me. But I did enjoy the story. It's fun and while I might have wanted it to tackle more, it's an interesting read.