The Sword Review, Issue #26

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“The Potato Farmer of Jamescamp” by Bill Snodgrass
“Tiama – A Story of Hope” by David R. Downing
“Seasonal Lending” by Kurt Kirchmeier
“Singing for the Enemy” by R. A. Gale

“The Potato Farmer of Jamescamp” feels a little too much like a Dungeons & Dragons adventure for my taste. Bill Snodgrass’s story takes place in a mining town in a wild frontier area where a shocking number of races detailed in any AD&D sourcebook have gathered. Apparently, some ogres have taken root in the mine and must be dealt with. Weldon, the potato farmer mentioned in the title, comes out of nowhere about halfway through the story, joins the party of intrepid adventures, and saves the day.

On a side note, this story comes with an MP3 file. I think this a great idea in theory, but the way The Sword Review staff executed it left me wanting more. The MP3 file is a recording of a text to speech translation of Snodgrass’s story. Had this been a real person, I probably would have enjoyed it, but I couldn’t get past the computer voice and stopped listening a few paragraphs in.

There was a level of polish missing from David R. Downing’s “Tiama – A Story of Hope.” To begin with, “A Story of Hope” made me think "Lifetime movie," not that it’s a bad thing, just a little corny. Structurally, the story could use some work. A lot of Tiama is passively written. I found Downing’s word choice a little suspect as well. At one point, he writes, “The story tells of a time when hope had been defeated by hopelessness.” And I can think around 20 words that would have carried more impact than "hope defeated by hopelessness."

The story itself is about a stranger that comes to a town overrun by drought and encroaching desert and breathes life back into it. Overall, it was a little impersonal and failed to engage me.

A short vignette, “Seasonal Lending” by Kurt Kirchmeier, shows a side of magic different from wizards hurling fireballs. While I have problems with some of his sentence constructions, it’s a nice short story with a unique perspective and an enjoyable narrative.

“Singing for the Enemy” reads like a battle of the bards.  As though a perpetually forgotten character class, R. A. Gale breathes life into the immortal bard. A leader of armies falls into the hands of an enemy who wishes to test her bardic ability against the “War Bard of Astaria.” Telling the story of battle fought with sound with the limitations of the printed word is a difficult task, but Gale tackles it admirably. I understood what was going on and quickly figured out how her spell/singing system worked.  An enjoyable read.