Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #46

Art by Jereme Peabody
November brings a new issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, with one short story, two novelettes, and one poem. The pieces are well in line with the publication’s title, featuring fantastical daring do, adventures of the magical variety, and a touch of grimness to keep things from getting too boisterous. The works look at people trying to avoid violence by and large, all pulled in all the same, to cycles of death and revenge, all trying to end up on the winning side, many having to be content with a sort of balancing act. There’s a lot of worlds to discover and characters to follow, so without further delay, let’s get to the reviews!


“Weights and Measures” by Benjamin C. Kinney (5103 words)

No Spoilers: Agnella is a high ranking religious figure who follows the Trader, a god of commerce. Her duties take her all over the world--even to a remote city where the local chapter’s ledger, a tome documenting all the transactions of the Trader in the area, has been stolen. Agnella arrives to sort things out only to find that the situation is more dire than she thought. Teaming up with a local and nameless Sister, she has to track down the ledger and try to retrieve it, all while figuring out why it’s been stolen and how it fits into the plans of a hungry and cold god of the area, the North Wind. The piece is interesting, building up a magic and religious system that’s integrated and intricate, and providing a nice balance of action and bargaining, as is fitting for a story where the god of trade is central.
Keywords: Gods, Hunts, Trades, Accounts, Religion
Review: I like how the story hinges on bargains, on trades. And how it sets up Agnella in the middle of that, a no-nonsense negotiator who has a long history of getting things done. She expects people to respect her role, her god, even as it takes a little while for the weight of why they should ultimately respect her and her god to catch back up to her. Because the truth is she’s used to operating in areas where she’s at the advantage, where her and her god’s power are a bit more secure. Out on the fringes of her territory, everything is more expensive, and there are some things that can’t be bought for any price. Well, for any mortal price. And it’s there that the story does a lot of interesting things, because it puts Agnella in a situation where there’s no way to use money to buy her way out of the situation. It comes down to a different kind of math, and a much more grim and brutal method of addition and subtraction. For me, at least, the story is a lot about the assumptions people have about a god of trade. How everyone seems to think that it means the god is of money, of jewels. And That’s not entirely wrong. Those are the traditional tools of the god. But they aren’t the only ones. The enemies trying to hurt the god have forgotten that. And Agnella seems to have almost forgotten it, for all that she seems more willing to trade away the Sister’s life than really think about trading in currency that is hers to give. And I like where the story ends, in sacrifice and balance. Because it is Agnella job, her role to play, the balance to the power she’s been invested in. And while it might not solve the problem forever, it clears the board, wipes the accounts clean, and reminds all sides that the Trader, the Counter of Costs, is not just a god of gold and rubies. A great read!

“The Diamond Stars” by Robert Zoltan (7599 words)

No Spoilers: Dareon and Blue are back for another adventure (or mis-adventure), this time involving a diamond thief, a theater, and an old obsession rotted into something deadly. The premise is simple: a mysterious thief has been robbing the wealthy, and Dareon and Blue have been hired to prevent the diamonds of the Lady LaCosta safe. They don’t expect it to be that much of an issue, even if the stories about the thief are rather fantastical. They’re professionals, after all, and even if Dareon might not always take things the most serious, he’s proven himself quite good at his job. Of course, things go wrong from the start, and the piece does a nice job of following the running disaster the job becomes, complete with death-defying chases, tense sword fights, and just a wee bit of theatrics from a man who hates theater.
Keywords: Diamonds, Theft, Theaters, Cold, Curses
Review: The story here does a nice job of drawing the world fresh for new readers while maintaining the voice and the general mood of the characters. They are not the most contemplative of sorts, and the story throws them right into the action, allowing them a little bit of time to explore their personalities (Dareon the talker, Blue the fighter) and build up a but more about the world and its shadows. The story is fun, kinetic, and hits the ground running with the arrival of the strange thief and the deepening mystery about what it can all mean. Things are a little convenient at times (the discovery of the one letter that would explain things) but that didn’t take away from the action and the kind of complicated mess that the characters found themselves in. And I like the way thte piece balances the action and fun with some elements of horror and tragedy. Because what happened to Dominia is rather tragic, a curse that she’s been caught in, tortured by, for years now. Though she’s also something of the villain of the piece, Blue does a nice job of laying the blame squarely at the feet of the man who actually cast the spell, to laid the curse. Whatever Dominia was to that man, she didn’t deserve what happened, and I do like that the story doesn’t overlook the loss and the injustice of her death. There’s at least the recognition that this is all fucked up, and that the world lost a star, a gem. And again, it’s a thoroughly entertaining read. The characters keep things fresh and lively, the action is compelling and well choreographed, and the plot comes together nicely. For fans of the characters, it’s a satisfying new adventure, and for new readers, it’s hopefully a reason to track down the further exploits of Dareon and Blue. A fine read!

"Sathano the Slayer” by Jeremy D. Farkas (7604 words)

No Spoilers: Sathano is a famed gladiator, seen as a bloodthirsty savage by the people who keep him prisoner and force him to fight to survive. Little surprise that the truth is a lot more complicated. When he’s pulled into a plot of assassination, magic, and politics, though, he has to weigh his own exhaustion at the prospect of doing more violence and the promise of his freedom. Only, he might have more options than people think, because for all that he’s very good at killing, he’s also being vastly underestimated. It’s a neat story, not fun exactly because of the heavy themes and elements, but solidly structured and executed, and satisfying in its conclusion.
Keywords: Gladiators, Beasts, Assassinations, Bargains, CW- Slavery
Review: I like the way that the story is about the choice that Sathano ends up taking. And I say taking because it’s not one that’s offered to him. So much of the story is about how people see him, how he’s perceived as this savage, this killing machine. And how much it just doesn’t fit. That yes, he’s good at it, but he also mourns the people that he’s forced to kill, and for him it’s always a matter of survival. Though people think that he takes pleasure in the kills, the opposite is true, and I think the story does a decent job of showing that this is a torture, too. Not noble, not just. But rather slavery and torture. And so when this woman, this sorceress, decides she wants to use him, wants to give him the promise of freedom, it might be tempting to think that all he has to do is do what he’s good at. Kill one more person. When really the whole this is obviously a trap. And freedom is not something that the sorceress has any intention of handing over. And yet she expected him to take the offer, to follow through, because she still believed him a savage. Still thought he’d be unable to resist killing the man who caused him so much pain. And instead, he...well, I mean, it’s not like he doesn’t cause the death. But more important to him is the freedom. Not the one he was offered but the one he can take for himself, and he does so with a clever twist on the plan he was given. One that wraps things up enough that he can get away. And I love the ending, the recognition that the “savages” all along were those who were in charge. Who reveled in the gladiatorial combat. Who planned to assassinate in order to claim political power. That it’s those people who can’t help but act on their more “animal” instincts, turning on each other rather than working together. It’s a tense and grim piece, one that, again, isn’t incredibly fun, but is still quite good, and very much worth checking out!


“The Sea Sings Back” by Dawn Vogel

This is a piece that speaks of the sea. Its power--its devastating power. And the way that sometimes it seems to aim for those who do not respect it. The piece tells of a kind of challenge the waves give to the narrator and their people. That if they should entertain the sea, they will be spared the wrath of the waters. The piece then follows the outcome, the attempts to placate the sea. And what I like about it is that it shows how the sea rejects those who treat it as a means, as just a thing they travel through or a power they dominate. The songs the people sing at first are about battle, about conquest, the singers praising themselves, making themselves sound good, powerful, worthy. When really that doesn’t seem to be what the seas care to hear. Not from people who need something from it. Wise people seem to recognize this and try to respect the sea, to show that they see and understand its power and aren’t going to thumb their noses at it, aren’t going to claim to be better than it. Which makes the seas a bit calmer, like they might not rage after all. Until the unwise take that as a cause for celebration, thinking that they’ve won, that they notched a new victory, a new conquest. At which power the waves return, and the sea sings a song of its own, this time of its conquest, its valor, its victory. And the piece is fairly short, delivered in three line stanzas that give something of the regular feeling of waves lapping the shore, giving the sense for me at least like the piece stands after the storm, after the rage and destruction, left with that final line that speaks of a song, a tune, the seas rejoicing, wiping away those that would think themselves great than it. It’s a neat piece, swelling alive, and a great way to close out the issue!


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