The Sword Review, #8, November 2005

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“The Dragon Princess – A Story of Devotion” by David R. Downing
“The World Stage” by George R. Taylor
“The Bones Don’t Lie” by Mark Venturini
“Payment in Full” by Justin R. Lawfer
“Queen of the Sepulcher” by Paul R. McNamee
“The Gribbit” by Selena Thomason

From the cover of The Sword Review’s November issue, a reader might assume that the stories within revolved upon the symbols, relationships, and complexities of time and space. Alas, that is not the case, but what is present are several fun, old-fashioned tales of magic, horror, and enchantment, along with the occasional copy editing mistake.

David R. Downing’s “The Dragon Princess – A Story of Devotion” is a handbook on how to tell a story over a round of ales. A nameless narrator regales a nameless listener with a legend about a magical, deserted island called Freasea. It is here that the tale of the dragon princess, Glinderal, is passed along through the generations. She was cursed by the gods for not appreciating her beauty and thus was transformed into a dragon. Only by the kiss of a knight could her curse be lifted. Enter the son of a fisherman to save the day.

The voice used to tell “The Dragon Princess – A Story of Devotion” is friendly and warm, much like that of a tavern barkeep making friends with his customers. It welcomes you to the tale and speaks to you so nicely that you just have to keep reading. Unfortunately, some daunting grammatical mistakes within most of the dialogue really pull the reader out: "I will save her." he had sworn "I will free Glinderal from her curse."

Downing’s storytelling is well paced and filled with tiny but lavish details. Unfortunately, this type of legend has been told too many times before. Without something remarkably new, “The Dragon Princess – A Story of Devotion” is the same old princess and the same old dragon.

“The World Stage” by George R. Taylor is an impressive entry.  A blood mage walks the streets unchallenged until the City Guards meet up with him. It is up to Captain Lethian, bearer of a magical enchantment that protects him from the blood mage’s spells, to put an end to the murderer’s path. Or is there more to it? Are they truly enemies?

There is a light touch of humor in Taylor’s words, but he still conveys a harsh world where lying is answered with death, and gold is all there is worth lying for.
"Overhead, he could hear the seagulls crowing. He had always liked seagulls. In spite of himself, Lethian smiled. It was odd the things one noticed when his head was on the chopping block."

The surprises and thrills in this story are plentiful, and the characters speak realistically. Taylor’s magic system is easy to understand, but could have used more explaining—why do mages tire so quickly when practicing their craft? The ending leaves open the possibility for more from this world and these characters.  If that should happen, I’ll be happy to follow them along the way.

“The Bones Don’t Lie” by Mark Venturini is about two brothers trying to survive in a world they don’t know. The younger one, Timri, hears singing off in the distance, while the older, Benshir, does not. It is only when priests come to their farm and warn of a Channel that could bring back destruction and death does Benshir begin to worry for his family’s safety. Is it true that the Bones don’t lie?

This dark fantasy tale has mystery, horror, and prophecies, yet Venturini manages to make it seem rural. They work on a farm; they try to please their father; they just want to play and be carefree. The two brothers get along as well as most young boys do, but when the time comes to show his bravery, Benshir does not back down. He makes for a surprising hero, and the ending will have you rereading this great story.
Another dark tale of fantastical horror, “Payment in Full” by Justin R. Lawfer, is a chilling story of isolation, fear, and monsters. A family of four must endure the curse of the kynols.  The monsters will never leave until the last villager is dead. Thus, they eat, sleep, and live in constant fear, wondering “Will this be the night they attack, Father?” Their luck changes when a mysterious man arrives, promising the destruction of all the kynols. But what price will the village pay for their salvation?
Lawfer writes a story much akin to the plot of the loved/hated film The Village, except this time [Editor’s note: Movie spoiler ahoy!] the beasts are real [/spoiler]. And they kill without remorse. He manages to express hope during these dark times.  The ending aims for surprise, but most of the characters’ shrouded past were revealed to me long before I reached it.
Being a member of The Sword Review’s message boards provides bonus stories for each issue. The current issue is host to two this time around: “Queen of the Sepulcher” by Paul R. McNamee and “The Gribbit” by Selena Thomason.
McNamee’s tale of an American Revolution soldier among a field of the dead and undead is filled with historical details that suggest that a high level of attention went into its crafting. A fun romp with plenty of action, this alternate history warp is well worth the read.
“The Gribbit” is a short piece that examines what would happen if one’s conscience were literally a living, breathing creature hiding under the bed. With more length, this could have been a great adventure in moral decisions and exciting choices, but it ended too quickly for me to appreciate what Thomason was going for.