A Review of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 23

Apologies to Adrian Simmons, to whom I had promised this review a few weeks ago.  (To give you an idea of how hectic things are, I started this post on Sunday and am finishing it on Wednesday.) In the past, I’ve read HFQ in spare moments at work and have usually managed to finish an issue in about a week or ten days.  The problem this go around is that there hasn’t been any free time.

HFQ 23

Chimera by Giovanna Guimarães

Anyway, HFQ returns with one of its strongest issues.  Included are a wandering Comanche in Central America, sky pirates raiding a lost city, and an offering to a goddess which unleashes all kinds of problems.

The first story is “Crazy Snake and the Cigaunaba” by Eric Atkisson.  It’s a sequel to “Crazy Snake and the Camazotz” from the previous issue.  Here the wandering Comanche Crazy Snake encounters a creature called a Ciguanaba.  It’s a type of ghost, one that’s rather vengeful.  In fleeing from it, he loses consciousness and wakes up in a cell.

There are some bad men (to put it mildly) who are using some of the locals as slaves.  One of them is a wizard who practices human sacrifice.  The men are part of a larger organization.  They’re going to send Crazy Snake to him.  There’s also a young boy named Cipitio who works for the castellan.

This one had some nice twists that Atkisson handled nicely.  The action scenes are handled well.  One of the strongest parts of the story was Crazy Snake’s relationship with Cipitio and how that worked out.  The only real weak point of the story was that the villains didn’t come across as fully realized as the Crazy Snake and Cipitio.  Still, this was a satisfying story, and I’m curious to see where Atkisson is taking this story arc.

My favorite story was “With a Golden Risha” by P. Djeli Clark.  Saleh plays the oud, a string instrument played with a risha, which is like a guitar pick if I understood correctly.  Saleh was having a fling with a noblewoman’s daughter on a long airship voyage when the noblewoman found out.  As punishment she had him abandoned on some floating islands over the middle of the ocean.

Saleh is thrilled to be resuced.  When he discovers that he’s been rescued by one of the most notorious sky pirates around.  Usman isn’t your typical pirate.  He has what are probably best called Marxist leanings.  He’s in the process of writing a book on his economic theories.

Saleh becomes the troubadour for the pirates.  It’s either that or work in the engine room.  When the pirates find a map leading to a legendary lost city that was supposedly destroyed when the Efrit the king had enslaved broke free.  Saleh goes along on the raid on the city.  Too bad he didn’t pay attention to his stories and songs.  He would have known these types of things never end well.

The writing in “With a Golden Risha” flows smooth and rich, like a fine vintage.  The characters, and there are more than just Usman and Saleh, are well defined and individuals.  The dialogue crackles with wit.  Saleh’s habit of remembering his oud teacher’s advice was a nice touch that added depth.  This story was a grand adventure that was tons of fun.  I want to read more about these characters.

The final piece of fiction is from Adrian Simmons, and its probably the most innovative in terms of structure.  “Bronze Ard, the Ferret Master, and the Auspicious Events at Swift Creek Farm” is a mouthful of a title, but it’s a good fit for the tone of the story.  A ferret master who rents out his ferrets to kill vermin and a merchant who rents out his bronze plow (the ard of the title, an improvement over the wooden plows the farmers use) both arrive at Swift Creek Farm.  The weather forces them to stay there for a few days.

The farm is watched over by a goddess who lives in the spring which feeds the stream.  Among those who bring offerings is a wild ferret who wants to mate with a ferret kept by the visitors and is in heat.  The oldest daughter at Swift Creek Farm, Bellaw, is bringing offering so she can get to know some of the visitors better.  The ferret’s requests take priority because he is bringing better offerings, things like bronze spear heads.

I’m not a huge fan of stories that tell things from an animal’s point of view.  They tend to be a tad too precious for my tastes.  Simmons avoids that type of presentation, but still as I read I couldn’t help but wonder what was heroic about this story.  I was enjoying it, even though it wasn’t what I was expecting.

What I should have been doing was wondering where the ferret was getting the things he was offering to the goddess.  Because once that is revealed, the story changes considerably.  What started out as an idyllic pastoral tale turns into something dark and tragic.  I loved it.

There are also two poems in this issue, “Witch and Paladin” by Reilly Blackwell and “The Dancer” by Susan Carlson.  I’ll not comment on them because I don’t want my commentary to be longer than the poems themselves.  I like both of them.  HFQ publishes some of the best fantasy poetry around.

This was a strong issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  There’s some great fiction here.  Check it out.

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