“Assailing the Garden of Pleasure” by Daniel Ausema
“Fox Hunt” by Rebecca Buchanan
“Instrument of Vengeance” by Howard Andrew Jones
“Apples of the Gods” by Jane Dougherty
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
Four tales of myth and magic with very different moods and backgrounds appear in the latest issue of this magazine of fantastic adventures.
In “Assailing the Garden of Pleasure” by Daniel Ausema, mages enter the garden of their master in a bizarre way. They must first split into two parts. Unknown to them, the master removes one of the halves for his own sinister purpose. The unfortunate visitor emerges with only one side of his or her former body, the other half replaced with another substance. Their magical powers greatly reduced, or completely removed, by this alteration, they are doomed to miserable lives of poverty. The narrator is the latest victim of this evil scheme, and struggles to find a way to bring justice to the master.
The most enjoyable part of this story is its unique fantasy concept. The various things that replace the missing parts of the victims’ bodies, which include shadow, mist, stone, trees, and animals, add a surreal tone to the narrative. In other ways, the background is a familiar one, of a vaguely European fantasy world with a relatively low level of technology. The way in which the narrator finally confronts the master is both arbitrary and not fully resolved.
“Fox Hunt” by Rebecca Buchanan takes place in a legendary version of the ancient Far East. The main character is a fox. Creatures that bring terror and death to their victims escape from the underworld. With the help of a human warrior, the fox battles the monsters and learns to appreciate what people can do.
The fox’s view of humanity offers a touch of gentle humor to an exciting tale of danger and deception. The story’s matter-of-fact tone, treating talking animals and demonic beings as a part of daily life, adds greatly to its verisimilitude. The narrative has the feeling of a folktale, with a consistent mythology behind the events of the plot.
“Instrument of Vengeance” by Howard Andrew Jones is a detective story set in the ancient Middle East. A musician engages the services of a scholar and his bodyguard in order to recover a stolen instrument. Their investigation leads them from the haunts of criminals to the palaces of the wealthy, where they encounter murder and a strange family curse.
The author blends mystery fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy into a seamless whole. The motive behind the crimes, which involves the curse, is logical and clued in a fair manner. The background is completely convincing, revealing careful research on the part of the author.
Norse mythology is the inspiration for “Apples of the Gods” by Jane Dougherty. The narrator is Idunn, the goddess who tends the orchards that provide apples of immortality for the deities. Loki tricks her into leaving Asgard for another realm. In her absence, the apples will wither and fade away, dooming the gods to grow old and die. Idunn has mixed feelings about her new home, while Loki, forced by the other gods to win back their immortality, plots to steal her back.
Readers familiar with Norse legends will recognize the basic plot as one taken directly from the old stories. Those who are not may find it difficult to follow. The author writes in a poetic, stately manner, appropriate to the material. It is tempting to read this version of an oft-told tale as a feminist variation on the myth, with Idunn resenting the power that male gods have over her. Despite this, however, she remains a mostly passive character, accepting her fate as inevitable.
Victoria Silverwolf may be reading too much into the last story.