As I stated the last time I reviewed HFQ, there were two serials in the previous issue that I would deal with here. There are also two poems (by Mary Soon Lee and David Sklar) and two more short stories in the current issue. Let’s deal with the short stories first.
Both the the shorter pieces stretch the definition of “heroic fantasy” as bit, at least in my mind. They were both good stories, but they wouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind when I think about heroic fantasy.
The first is “Curse of Beauty” by Marlena Frank. Catharine lives in the forest, sharing a small cottage with three cats. Orphaned when her mother never returned from a hunt, Catharine believes she’s beautiful, so beautiful that the people of a nearby village fear her. They call her a siren who lures men to their deaths. There are no reflecting surfaces, so I’m somewhat skeptical Catharine is as beautiful as she thinks she is. One day she accidentally blinds a man who has come in search of her. While taking care of him, Catharine falls in love with him. She begins to sing, something she hasn’t done since her mother failed to return, and discovers both a joy and a power in her voice. Of course her singing attracts the notice of the men of the village. On the surface, “Curse of Beauty” is a fairly simple romantic fantasy, but there are depths to the story that surface upon reflection of the events. Is Catharine as beautiful as she believes? Are the villagers correct, and Catharine is a monster? Just how reliable a narrator is Catharine, really?
M. R. Timson’s “Brotherhood of the Book” is the story of a young scribe who is asked to copy a manuscript in a unknown language. Things aren’t what they seem in this (very) dark fantasy. The story takes place in a monastery of an order devoted to books. The scribes are not monks and have very little interaction with the monks. Our narrator, though, does come to their attention. I liked how everything, including the calendar and time keeping the monks used, was expressed in terms of books, such as page, chapter, and volume.
The first of the two-part serials is “Crazy Snake and the Tribute for Pachacamac” by Erik Atkisson. (Part 1, Part 2) This is the longest of the Crazy Snake stories so far and picks up not long after the events of the previous story. It opens with Crazy Snake being left on an island with plans for his companions to return for him a few days later. The island is shrouded in fog, a fog it turns out that never lifts. Crazy Snake is soon attacked by a large stone creature. He escapes by swimming into the ocean. There he is pulled into a small boat by a party of four people. They tell him that there’s no escape from the island and that several of their companions have been captured by a group of men. When Crazy Snake’s horse is stolen he leads a rescue party.
Atkisson drops some hints about Crazy Snake’s mother, who was not from his tribe but somewhere in South American. There are betrayals, and not all of the action and heroics revolve around Crazy Snake. The interesting thing is that there is a possibility that Crazy Snake may have gained a traveling companion and possible love interest for future stories. With this story, the series begins to move from free-standing adventures to something with an overarching storyline. This series is becoming more complex, and I’m interested in seeing what the author has up his sleeve.
The final two-parter is “The Siege, the Gums, and the Blue” by Adrian Simmons. (Part 1, Part 2) This is a dark and grim look at a city under siege. It’s told from the point of view of a young man from the country who is conscripted into the army and the daughter of the aging king. Simmons has thought out what a siege would look like from the inside. I really liked this one, especially how Simmons showed us things from the perspective of someone in charge and someone at the bottom of the hierarchy.