The Sword Review, September 2006, Vol. 18

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“Prophecy of the Dragon” by JM Hauser
“Gretchen and the Whirlpool” by John Kuhn
“What the Wind Blew In” by Lisa A. Smith                 
“Soul Singer” by Angie Lofthouse
“A Rose by Another Name” by Anita G. Howard
“Chasing the Great Sky Dog” by Keesa Renee DuPre

There are common threads running through the stories in the September 2006 issue of The Sword Review. Most of the stories feature young, female protagonists, and two prominently feature the wind. Though the main themes vary, there is an ongoing premise that faith is what guides and shapes the characters’ actions.

There are two characters in “Prophecy of the Dragon” by JM Hauser, a hero and the red dragon he has come to slay. The story is one long monologue in which the dragon tires to convince the hero that prophecies are really rubbish. As characters go, the dragon is quite fun, even if he sounds more like a high school English teacher than any dragon this reader might imagine. The hero never speaks, serving more as a foil than anything else. Short and sweet with a humorous twist,  definitely take the time to enjoy “Prophecy of the Dragon.”

“Gretchen and the Whirlpool” by John Kuhn contains many of the elements of a classic fairy tale: Gretchen is a little girl, the extraordinary seems ordinary, and magic can be found in the everyday. There’s an enchanted forest with a house made of cars, a wind that whispers, a malevolent whirlpool, talking trees, and sparrows that wear glasses, and the secondary characters have names like Augustus MacAlbaine Bradford, Ichabod Abelard Maple, and Sir Chaskie Gorrion. But don’t be fooled by the whimsical elements. In the last quarter, the story shifts from a simple fairy tale to a religious allegory, a shift that effectively transitions “Gretchen and the Whirlpool” into something more, containing themes of faith, redemption and salvation. As a character, Gretchen isn’t all that exciting, but it doesn’t detract from the story. Ultimately, I wished Gretchen was the real savior, making “Gretchen and the Whirlpool” more like a classic fairy tale.

In “What the Wind Blew In” by Lisa A. Smith, young Lizzy has a terrifying night visitor. As the wind whips outside her house and her family sleeps, Lizzy listens for the heavy footsteps of the intruder who is desperately seeking entry. Lizzy is engaging; the reader gets a feel for what her world is like as well as the depth of her dilemma. The later section, when another character is introduced and the purpose of the visit explained, seems a bit heavy handed, but doesn’t particularly detract. Go ahead and delve into Lizzy’s world, it will be worth it.

In Angie Lofthouse’s “Soul Singer,” genetically engineered Maiya Lemesa catches the eye of Carrick, a bitter, vengeful man seeking retribution for the destruction of his home planet. Carrick perceives Maiya’s soul singing abilities as alien and therefore a threat. The story is well-written, but I never connected with either Maiya or Carrick. The other characters simply exist to forward the story with the result that “Soul Singer” feels incomplete. It seems like there should be more to Maiya’s tale, and I would love to see how Maiya and her abilities take shape in an expanded version of “Soul Singer.”

In “A Rose by Another Name” by Anita G. Howard, the Shadow Lord, a telepathic prince from an underground realm, goes in search of a bride. He must look beyond the surface to find the mate who matches him in every way. The idea that the prince’s perfect woman is blind, deaf, and dumb annoyed the feminist in me, and that the story combines elements of other familiar tales, specifically “The Princess and the Pea” and the Persephone myth, was bothersome. Nevertheless, I ultimately enjoyed “A Rose by Another Name.”
Where “Gretchen and the Whirlpool” is reminiscent of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, “Chasing the Great Sky Dog” by Keesa Renee DuPre has roots in Slavic mythology. Like Gretchen, Irina is a young girl, and also like Gretchen, she must undertake a quest which may be beyond what one person can do. Both stories also feature an element of divine intervention, but there the similarities end.  “Chasing the Great Sky Dog” is a character-driven story that allows the reader to get into Irina’s mind, and her actions ultimately solve the principal dilemma. Those unfamiliar with the legend of the Zorya or interested in good characterization should take the time to enjoy “Chasing the Great Sky Dog”.