I thought a baseball metaphor was appropriate since this is the spring 2012 issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. I’ve been so inundated with novels that I haven’t had a chance to check this one out in a while. It’s well worth a look.
The current issue contains three stories and two poems. Here’s what I thought of them.
First up is “Crown of Sorrws” by Seamus Bayne. It’s the tale of the mercenary Ordwin who is chosen by the summoner-king Theisius to retrieve an item of value in a deadly game the sorcerer is playing with King Archese, Ordwin’s former employer. The item is a crown, which Archese has given to the beast people. To retrieve it, Ordwin must assume the form of a beast and pass three tests. Naturally, Ordwin doesn’t have much choice. There is deception aplenty here. I found the setup intriguing, the challenges clever, and the characters fascinating. This one was dark, brutal, and engrossing. I thoroughly loved it and would like to see more of this world.
Second is Russell Miller’s tongue-in-cheek “Rhindor’s Remission”. Rhindor is an aging warrior wizard who has a final confrontation with his greatest foe. They both discover that old age isn’t for sissies. And one of them discovers that evil artifacts can change as they age. I found the humor in this story to be good a counterpoint to “Crown of Sorrows”.
The final story, “Blade and Branch and Stone” by Spencer Ellsworth, is the longest of the three. It’s set in what feels like colonial America, but if that’s the case, it’s an alternate America which has a sentient race that’s part tree. While the concepts of a race that is part tree and trees that store generational memories aren’t new, and aren’t my favorite tropes if I’m being honest, Ellsworth uses multiple viewpoints to present a moving picture of how two races at enmity with each other can bridge a gap. This was a multi-layered tale worth the reading.
There were two poems. The second one, “Sidhe Song” by Phil Emory had a haunting quality to it. But it was the first poem, Bethany Powell’s “Burying the Plowshare”, that really stood out to me. It’s about a farmer who goes to war because there’s nothing left to do. I don’t read a lot of contemporary poetry these days, but then most contemporary poetry doesn’t have this kind of power. Powell captures the tone of bitterness and loss perfectly.
I wasn’t familiar with any of the writers whose works is in this issue. I found all of the stories to be excellent. Heroic Fantasy Quarterly may not have pay rates that meet SFWA’s criteria for a professional market, but there’s nothing unprofessional about the quality of the work you’ll find there. All five pieces, whether fiction or poetry, were polished, professional work. If you aren’t reading this electronic magazine, you’re missing out.