Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #43, February 2020
“Low Tide” by Conor DiViesti
“Five Days to DragonHaul” by Evan Marcroft
“Beast in the Woods” by Peter Fugazzotto
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
A trio of adventures set in imaginary worlds full of danger appear in the latest issue of this on-line publication.
The protagonist of “Low Tide” by Conor DiViesti was once a sea captain, with the rare, magical ability to touch an object and experience the sensations of the one who owned it. For unknown reasons, this power betrayed him, leading his ship to disaster. Disgraced for deserting his crew, he now lives incognito among those who gather crabs for a living.
The only other person who survived the disaster comes to him, bearing an object that could lead them to treasure. They set off after the riches with the help of a local guide. After facing battles with both people and monsters, they discover that the prize is not what it seems.
This story is full of unexpected happenings, and one cannot fault the author for lack of imagination. The plot depends on the guide and her people, dismissed as savages, concealing their extraordinary relationship with crabs. It is difficult to believe that such a remarkable fact could remain a secret for any length of time at all.
The narrator of “Five Days to DragonHaul” by Evan Marcroft collects debts for a living. He lives in a world that combines magic and technology, particularly in the form of machines that are semi-biological. For example, he travels with a half-organic robot that serves both as a bodyguard and as a safe to lock up the money he collects.
His current assignment takes him to a sparsely settled frontier, to obtain payment from the owner of a living airship. Unable to settle his debts, the fellow offers to take the narrator on a journey to collect parts of the body of a fallen dragon, which are worth more than enough to pay what he owes. Their odyssey leads to encounters with reality-distorting storms and other hazards, as well as a final revelation about the narrator’s true motive for his task.
The most notable aspect of this tale is its unique background, which creates a true sense of wonder. The events are episodic; in particular, a battle with zombie-like monsters, which takes up a major portion of the story, has no real effect on the plot.
In “Beast in the Woods” by Peter Fugazzotto, a half-orc serves as a scout for a human army. Because orcs were defeated in a war with humans, his fellow soldiers treat him as a second-class citizen and do not allow him to bear arms. A deadly creature attacks the army, killing most of them and forcing the others to retreat. On his way back to safety, the half-orc discovers what the humans really think of him, and decides where his loyalty must lie.
This is a simple fable about discrimination. Much of it will seem familiar to readers of epic fantasy. The reader is likely to empathize with the protagonist, but may not agree with his choices.
Victoria Silverwolf is surprised that the spell check program recognizes the word orc.