In case you haven’t noticed, we’re big fans of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly around here. Schedules have been hectic enough that I’ve gotten a bit behind on reading it. Not that that’s anything unusual.
Issue 29 (see art by Vok Kostic here) has the first of a two-part epic poem, so I’ll start with issue 29 and use the poem as a bridge to my comments on issue 30. Both issues had short poems, which I’ll not discuss as they aren’t particularly long. The poems in Issue 29 were “Wench” by Scott Hutchison and “The Persuaders” by Colleen Anderson. Issue 30 gave us another poem by Colleen Anderson, “Garuda’s Gambit” as well as “The Night Before Yule” by Daniel Stride.
I’ll begin my comments of Issue 29 with “Spatha Stercae” by James Frederick William Rowe. This was many ways a clever story about a giant who takes up residence on a mountain and terrorizes the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately for me, much of the cleverness came from literal bathroom humor. It wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but I’m sure there are plenty of readers who will enjoy it. Rowe is a talented writer, and I would be willing to give his work another try.
“Racing the Headsman” by Andrew Knighton was much more to my liking. It was also a clever tale, although the cleverness involved how the protagonist outwitted his adversary. Set during the English Civil War, a captain and his crew rescue their king, but as they try to get him to safety, the captain realizes there is a difference between serving a king and serving a kingdom.
Keeping the theme of clever going, there’s a nice little kernal of clever going on in Matthew Wuertiz’s “Shadows in Sakamura“, which you should be able to tell from the title is set in Japan. Here a pair of warriors share an unusual existence. By sunlight, Katsu’s shadow is his companion Tsukiko, while in the moonlight he becomes her shadow. They can interact with the physical world as shadows, which is always a handy thing to be able to do in a fight. I liked this idea and thought that while the author did a good job with it, there are still many aspects of the situation yet to explore. I’m hoping to see more of these characters.
Moving on the two part epic poem by Cullen Groves, “Lethe’s Cup and the White Sword” (Part 1; Part 2) is a long but enjoyable tale about a Christian knight and a pagan half-elf princess, their war with each other, and their love. It’s a little more work to read than the usual fare in HFQ, but it’s well worth the effort. I am in awe of anyone who can write a poem that long.
Adrian Simmons gave us “Seven Moves of an Ordrulk Board“. This is probably the most ambitious work I’ve seen by Adrian. It’s the tale of a boy who tries to fool a demon into giving him the ability to work magic. The only person he’s really fooling is himself. This is a powerful and unflinching meditation on the ends not justifying the means.
Harry Piper continues that theme with “The Man in Chains“. This is a historical fantasy about the lengths to which men are willing to go to protect their countries. If you find a man chained in darkness in the basement of an abandoned castle, there’s a reason he’s there.
As good as the above names stories were, and make no mistake, they were good, my favorite was Martin Rose’s “Eyes or no Eyes”. It’s narrated by a court magician who is a bitter old man (my kinda guy). When a young champion is severely wounded in a joust, he manages to save her life but not her sight. It’s also a story of redemption, for the spoiled brat of a prince who probably was behind her wounding finds he needs her. But to restore her is going to require a huge sacrifice. I really liked the prose in this one. It was poetic and beautiful in a way that didn’t interfere with the story but communicated the character of the narrator.
Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is only getting better, IMO. The fiction is some of the strongest I’ve seen here, and the normal HFQ story is usually pretty strong. Read and what the state of the field of heroic adventure fantasy is today.