And so we come to another issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. This was one of the strongest (and grimmest) issues I’ve seen in a while. There are three pieces of fiction along with two poems and a great illustration by Serbian artist Vuc Kostic. His dark style is a perfect fit for the stories contained herein.
First, is “The Madness of the Mansa” by Cullen Groves. This is a sword and soul tale that’s pretty ambitious in its execution. When the ruling monarch (the mansa of the title) decrees that only verse may be spoken in his presence, it creates all kinds of problems at court. But when a greedy nobleman hires a fluid tongued pirate to pose as his nephew, things get interesting. It seems there are reasons why the mansa has all of a sudden decreed that only poetry can be spoken in his presence, and they aren’t good…
I particularly liked the way poetry was part of the story in this one. The pirate Draba isn’t a hero, but he’s not completely without his redeeming qualities. I’d like to see more of this character.
The second story is in many ways the bleakest. In Dennis Mombauer’s “Melting Gold and Ashes“, the greatest warrior of the age has died. Now all his former allies and adversaries (the two groups are not mutually exclusive) have gathered to see him off to the afterlife. While his ship of state is being prepared they share memories and try to understand what drove him. While they may not get answers to their questions, they do manage to learn a little about themselves.
Andrea G. Stewart brings us “The Leaves of Torin’s Field“. A former soldier turned mercenary is trying to overcome the grief of losing his son, a death he holds himself responsible for. He seeks absolution in death. That of criminals and villains if he can’t find it in his own demise. When gets word that a sorceress and her band of cutthroats is trying to take over a town, he walks to the rescue. He doesn’t ride for reasons that will become clear when you read the story.
The motivation of the sorceress was one of the more original motivations that I’ve seen in a while. (No, I’m not going to tell you what it is. That would spoil the surprised. You’ll have to read it for yourself.) In some ways, what the sorceress is trying to accomplish is too small a project for a short story. There’s still plenty of room to explore this conceit, and I’d like to see this idea developed further.
And of course no issue of HFQ would be complete without poetry. This issues selections come from Colleen Anderson and David Farney. As usual, I’ll not comment on them because I don’t want the comments to be longer than the poems themselves.
This is one of the best issues of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly I’ve seen in a while. Check it out and see why it’s one of the best venues for short fiction out there.