Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #49, August 2021

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #49, August 2021

“A Song of Pictish Kings” by Adrian Cole

“Old Ghosts” by Greg Mele

“The Pass” by Nick Mazolillo

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Three very different tales of the supernatural appear in this issue.

“A Song of Pictish Kings” by Adrian Cole takes place in an imaginary ancient world, where Atlantis still lies above the waves. Viking-like raiders of the continent arrive with an unexpected offer of co-operation. Their land is threatened by the monstrous creation of evil sorcerers, and they wish to have help fighting it. One of the kings of Atlantis journeys to their realm to investigate the menace. During his absence, a wicked relative plots to seize the throne for himself through treachery.

Firmly in the tradition of classic sword-and-sorcery, this tale of intrigue and adventure is full of bloody combat and powerful magic. Fans of the genre should enjoy it, although the setting and plot may seem familiar. The characters are archetypical rather than realistic, with mighty warriors and black-hearted villains. The climax, although highly dramatic, happens too quickly to be fully appreciated by the reader.

“Old Ghosts” by Greg Mele is set in a fantastic version of ancient Mesoamerica. The narrator is haunted by the ghost of his brother-in-law, whom he killed for betraying and beating his sister. With the aid of a spirit-healer, he journeys to the Underworld to confront the dead man. What he learns leads to an elaborate plot for revenge, which ends in a terrible and unexpected way.

The setting is an unusual one, and the use of Mesoamerican themes makes for a unique story. The plot is not just a typical fantasy adventure, with the narrator’s actions having serious consequences for himself and others. At times, this grim and complex story has the intensity of a Shakespearean tragedy.

“The Pass” by Nick Mazolillo involves a man who guards a bridge leading from the land where he dwells into heavy mist, beyond which one cannot see. He teaches his son to perform the same task, demanding the necessary payment from those who wish to cross, and fighting off those who cannot be allowed to reach the other side. After losing one such battle with a monstrous being, the young man learns more about the duty he must fulfill.

This is a strange, eerie tale, at times so mysterious that it almost seems like a work of surrealism. The ending clears things up to some extent, but many readers are likely to be bewildered by some of the story’s imagery and symbolism.

Victoria Silverwolf has been watching Pierce Brosnan in the role of James Bond recently.