I thought I would revisit the publication this month. Both stories are well-done, although the execution of one is superior to the other.
The first story is “Royal Steel” by Leigh Kimmel. It concerns Ashkhen, the orphaned daughter of a discarded courtesan who is living by her wits on the streets. The former king is dead, a diabolist rules in his place, and Ashkhen and her grandfather do what they can to survive. Her grandfather is a former soldier, and he doesn’t think much of the thugs who now make up the army. When a group of them destroy his shashlik stand, Ashkhen comes to his aid and gets chased by the soldiers.
Running through a broken doorway, she finds a means of not only defending herself, but of avenging the former king. This part of the story is logical, and Kimmel sets it up so that it makes sense. The only problem I had was that a door that leads into the palace was hanging shattered and open, completely unguarded. There is a possible explanation for this, one I’ll not give details about because I don’t want to give away that much of the plot. I’ll just say that it’s the same explanation for Ashkhen finding the means to avenge the king. This stretched my suspension of disbelief to near breaking.
Other than this point, I enjoyed the story and would be interested in seeing more from Kimmel. The setting isn’t your typical European medieval fantasy world. The backstory is handled well, and Ashkhen is a sympathetic heroine. The author gives a bit of the story’s history here.
The second and considerably longer story is David Turnbull‘s “There Might be Giants”, a delightful coming of age tale in which a young boy much face his own personal giant. The boy, Henry, is the son of the abusive jailer, and Jack the Giant Killer has been condemned to death for crimes against the people, naming being in the employ of the deposed Duke and accepting the tax money of the people in payment. The dialogue crackles, and there’s an undercurrent of socioeconomic commentary that really appealed to me, best summed up in Henry’s father’s salute to the Great Comrade, whose portrait has replaced that of the Duke: “Here’s to the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Jack may or may not be a liar, and there may or may not be real giants. I hope Turnbull never writes a sequel in which he lets us know the truth. The uncertainty was one of the strengths of the story. On the other hand, a sequel would be appealing. This one I highly recommend.
I’ve not had a chance to read the April issue (yet), what with a health scare and end of semester crunch hitting. I intend to read the stories in the near future. I will say that I thought this issue was a strong one. If editor Curtis Ellet can maintain this level of quality, this will be a publication with the potential to become a major source of sword and sorcery.