Dragons, Knights, & Angels, # 31

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"Ensorcelled" by Debbie Mumford
"The Last Stand" by Robert Barlow

"The White Spider" by C. Le Mroch

“Ensorcelled” by Debbie Mumford is the archetypal high-fantasy that Dragons, Knights, & Angels seems to favor; this one has little in the way of allegory apart from the notion of self-sacrifice for the greater good.  A magician’s apprentice, eager to end the bloody war ravishing her homeland, discovers a magical ring with great powers that could aid their cause (my precious…..there, it needed to be said).  However there is a great curse that comes with the ring (Gollum…sorry that will do), the wearer of the Firestone cannot touch or be touched by another.
So we have pseudo-chastity and self-sacrifice for the greater good, which neatly ties in with the themes of the genre, but what about the story?  It’s a competent piece, not particularly brilliant but not outright terrible.  It is, again, a piece on a fannish level, quite interestingly portrayed in terms of its Christian values but not a particularly original or professional story.

"The Last Stand" by Robert Barlow tells the story of eleven Templar knights who must defend a mound from a horde of misshapen monstrosities. One by one, the knights are injured. Will they survive?

This story started as a compelling tale of men facing desperate odds, but the ending did not work for me. It was a Deus ex Machina in the worst sense of the term: completely unexpected, following no predictable pattern (why would God intervene now, and not before?). It cheapens the Knights’ valiant efforts to defend their mound—which for some odd reason turned into the only defence for a city later in the story. The idea of the Words of God having power is a nice one and well in keeping with the spirit of the magazine; but that kind of magic only works if there are clear rules and not random consequences.

"The Dragon Keepers, or How the Dragon Spits Fire" by Candy Taylor Tutt is a fun little tale deliberately reminiscent of Kipling’s Just-So Stories. In the Deep Green, the Dragon Keepers live without a care in the world, until two very odd men arrive. They are a European and his manservant, and they set about constructing a Contraption on the banks of the river with the help of the Dragon Keepers.

The storyline meanders a bit, especially towards the middle, but the style is a delight. I would have liked more details about the Dragons to support the ending, and I had trouble reconciliating the idea of dragons, which are either Western or East Asian, with a story that was obviously set in the jungles of India. But those are relatively minor quibbles. "The Dragon Keepers" is a clever little tale that will have you chuckling at the end.

In "The White Spider" by C. Le Mroch, Maggie is only a little girl when people start disappearing in her quiet hometown. And at the same time, Maggie starts seeing a white spider that turns into alabaster dancers. Is there a connection between both sets of events? 

This story starts out with a bang, and Le Mroch maintains suspense well for most of the story. However, it then falls apart for two reasons. The first is what happens to Maggie’s brother; it is something quite serious, yet the event itself is glossed over, and only alluded to briefly. I got the confusing feeling I had missed something in the narration, and had to go back, to no avail.  The second is the ending. While an admirable idea and at odds with the cliché option, it fails because insufficient ground has been laid for it. We do not know enough about the people who disappear, and when the revelation does come, it feels uncalled for.

("Ensorcelled" by Debbie Mumford reviewed by Jason Fischer, "The Last Stand" by Robert Barlow, "The Dragon Keepers, or How the Dragon Spits Fire" by Candy Taylor Tutt, and "The White Spider" by C. Le Mroch reviewed by Aliette de Bodard).