It’s been a while since I looked at any online magazine here, and that includes Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. One of my goals for the year was to change that. I’m a bit behind on that one, I’m about to start making progress.
The latest issue of HFQ contains two poems and four stories rather than the usual three. All of them have a desert theme. (I wonder if the harsh winter we’ve been having has anything to do with that. California Dreamin’, sword and sorcery style.)
Leading off the issue is “The House of Nharat” by Garnett Elliot. Set in ancient Mesopotamia, or a world that looks a whole lot like it, it concerns a war between city states. One is under the control of a sorcerer with the ability to pull the constellations down from the sky and send them against his enemies. This is dark magic. The high priest of the other city state enlists the aid of an ancient sorcerer to find out how stop the attacks on his city. Accompanied by an acolyte, he sets out into the desert to do that. This one involved a great deal of magical combat and some interesting applications of the constellations.
Next up is “The Last First Time” by Colin Heintze. In spite of the tragic ending, this was my favorite story in the issue. It’s a time travel tale, something you don’t see much of in sword and sorcery. Each year the ruins of a lost city become the city itself (sort of like Lorna Doone with sand) to relive its final hours. After being caught there, a young merchant returns every year to spend the day with the young woman he rescues and falls in love with. There are some significant themes of sacrifice in this one that made it more than just another adventure story.
Like “The House of Nharat”, “The Living Curse” by Ethan Fode also involves an immortal, or a man who is close enough to it that it makes no difference. While no less heroic than the hero from the former story, this one, Soren, has a few more injuries at the end. Bitten by ghul, his body repairs itself, but with human flesh gradually being replaced by ghul flesh. This one had the feel of an installment of a series. That’s not intended as a negative. I’d like to see other stories of this character if they exist. (And if they don’t, Mr. Frode should consider writing them.)
Editor Adrian Simmons provides the bonus story, “A Paradise of Wasteland“. This was my second favorite tale in the issue. A witch leads a chieftain into the desert to a ruined city to seek help from the Lord of the Djin. There’s less violence in this one than in some of the other stories in this issue, but it’s more thoughtful than many S&S stories. The setting isn’t your usual European clone. It seems to be some version of Africa. At least some of the animals mentioned are from Africa, which was a nice change.
The poems are “The Succubus” by Colin Heintze, author of the aforementioned “The Last First Tiime” and “Fortune-Teller” by E. L. Schmiit. They’re both short, so I’ll refrain from comment since I don’t want my remarks on the poems to be longer than the poems themselves. I will say that I appreciate that HFQ actively seeks out poetry. The ghost of Robert E. Howard is surely pleased.
While this may not be the strongest issue of HFQ I’ve read (I’ve read a lot), it’s certainly a solid one. After 19 issues, the publication has achieved the consistency that all magazines hope for but not all find.