The Sword Review, #19, October 2006

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“The Romance of Vegada” by Lawrence Dagstine
“Bedbugs” by Edward McKeown
“The Nun’s Demon Lover” by Richard K. Lyon
“The Souldrinker” by Scott M. Sandridge

“The Repairman” by Paul R. McNamee
"A Song of the Aelves: A Story of Sacrifice" by David R. Downing takes place in a drought-ridden desert city. When a mysterious musician comes to town and takes up residence in the marketplace, he begins spinning out his story within a story. As the tale builds, the rains start rolling in. You probably won’t identify with the protagonist, but you may identify with elements of his story. Neither the protagonist nor the town is ever named.  He is an everyman; the story could happen anywhere. Relying heavily on narrative and descriptive language, the story paints a clear picture of the town, its denizens, and the events in the song.

"A Song of the Aelves" really wasn’t this reviewer’s cup of tea. I especially could have done without the subtitle. Nevertheless, it is well written. A savvy reader will probably find something good to take away from it.

In “The Romance of Vegada” by Lawrence Dagstine, Esposito Vegada spends lonely nights rambling through his crumbling, old mansion exploring the glories of his past. The only things that break his monotony are books from the local library and chance encounters with the beautiful Julia Englewood. Esposito is cursed, doubly so because his affliction keeps him from the object of his desire. Will evil magic rule the day, or will love conquer all? The only way to know for sure is to read Lawrence Dagstine’s tale. 

“The Romance of Vegada” is aptly named, so if romance and melodrama aren’t your thing, look elsewhere. But if you’re a romantic at heart, or in search of interesting new characters, you will definitely enjoy this one.

“Bedbugs” by Edward McKeown combines robots, romance, an alien planet, and a life-threatening situation to craft a winning science fiction tale. Protagonist Jarl Esser is a young mechanic working as part of a scientific expedition. He loves his minibots, which protect the expedition from hostile flora and fauna, and he loves fellow explorer Marceline des Rosiers. When alien slave traders threaten his coworkers, including the object of his affection, Jarl and his bots spring into action.

Edward McKeown’s characterization of Jarl really makes the story. You feel Jarl’s angst, from self-doubt and yearning to jealousy and concern. Barbicane and Corsu also have enough depth to really flesh out the story. But I wish that Jarl’s rival, Stone, had been a bit less one-dimensional. It would also have been nice to have had more input from the lovely Marceline. With regard to plot, the reader never learns why the expedition is there, nor is there a detailed description of any of the hostile flora. That additional bit of background might really have added to this story. Visiting Arronax V won’t ruin your day; in fact it just might make you smile.

“The Nun’s Demon Lover” by Richard K. Lyon is a conspiracy theorist’s dream. Ancient objects of evil have been gathered in one very unlikely place, a museum. When a senior daytrip goes horribly awry a nun, a demon, the police, a crazed physicist and his henchmen all play a part in shaping a tale of kidnapping, World War II Paris and the search for lost love. 84-year-old Sister Helen Mary, the protagonist, is delightful and the plot moves at a brisk pace. The Demon and the assorted thugs are also appealing, only Dr. Simon Maguson, acting as the story’s key villain, lacks real bite. Richard K. Lyon has done an excellent job of weaving religious themes into a winning tale. Take time to enjoy “The Nun’s Demon Lover”, it’s a fun read.

“The Souldrinker” by Scott M. Sandridge blends traditional sword and sorcery elements into an Indiana Jones-type adventure. The story features the exploits of Korgash and his band of mercenaries, first encountered in “The Lost Freehold” in the June 2006 issue of The Sword Review. In a quest to find out who is behind a series of kidnappings, the motley crew encounters zombies, endless catacombs, virgin sacrifice, and an evil priestess.

For the most part, this is a successful formula for Sandridge. The characters have distinct personalities, the language engages, and there is enough mayhem to keep things interesting. My only criticism is that even though the story can stand alone, it feels incomplete. There are hints that the characters have a history the reader isn’t really privy to. At some point, the author might expand the Korgash stories into a novel or a compilation of short stories. Until then, enjoy “The Souldrinker” as the crazy jaunt into Rexonia with Arnelda, Korgash, and Roland that it is.

“The Repairman” by Paul R. McNamee is a flash fiction piece that utilizes exceptionally descriptive language to tell a tale of war and working the front lines. “The Repairman” has a lot more gore than most of the offerings you’ll find in The Sword Review, and it’s more of a political statement than anything else. I can’t really say I enjoyed it. However, considering the current politico-military situation, the story is quite relevant. If you can get past the blood and guts, “The Repairman” may serve as a gentle reminder that there are those who have to face such horrors everyday, and because they do, many of us, this reviewer included, don’t have to.