Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #50, November 2021

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #50, November 2021

“The Reprieve” by Darrell Schweitzer

“The Lost Prince” by Milton Davis

“The Carnival Job” by Mark Finn

“Father-of-Rivers” by Gregory Mele

“The Orb of Semerkhet” by Jeremy Farkas

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

The magazine celebrates its fiftieth issue with an extra-large serving of fiction in the tradition of classic sword-and-sorcery.

In “The Reprieve” by Darrell Schweitzer, a prince encounters an ancient magician in the shape of a young man. The unlikely pair journey into the land of dreams, which lies between life and death. The prince wishes to defeat his brother, who stole the right to their father’s throne from him. After an entire lifetime spent in the dream world, the prince discovers the magician’s motives.

This brief synopsis offers only a taste of a complex plot involving court intrigue as well as a mythic odyssey into another plane of existence. The story begins with a lengthy tale-within-a-tale, that serves as a hint of things to come. This is the most enjoyable part of an imaginative work, but perhaps it reveals too much about later events.

The title character of “The Lost Prince” by Milton Davis begins the story as a little boy. He is taken from his homeland in an attempt to save him from his usurping uncle, but his protectors are killed. The boy is rescued by desert nomads, and he grows up as one of them. An unexpected encounter leads to a revelation about his past and his legacy.

I have not mentioned the story’s fantasy content, which is the fact that the prince has a magical form of telekinetic power that allows him to defeat his enemies. Although this appears in scenes of battle, it is not a major part of the plot. The story ends sooner than expected, and readers may wish for a fuller resolution of the prince’s conflict with his uncle.

The narrator of “The Carnival Job” by Mark Finn is in prison after a failed assassination plot. The fellow who hired him arranges to have him set free, in return for another, less fatal, crime against the intended target. With the help of fellow criminals and a wizard, he manages to avoid the wrath of the authorities and the treachery of his employer.

Written in a cynical, wisecracking style, this story reads like a combination of fantasy and hardboiled crime fiction. The combination is a refreshing change from the magazine’s more traditional tales. The narrator’s scheme is clever, but a full explanation of it requires a long section of flashback and exposition after the climactic scene.

“Father-of-Rivers” by Gregory Mele is one of a series of stories set in a fantasy version of ancient Mesoamerica. In this tale, the captain of a motley crew of pirates becomes involved in gruesome killings committed by river-dwelling monsters. The plot also involves a high priest who may be responsible for the death of his predecessor, and a secretive cult.

The unusual and vividly portrayed setting is the most effective aspect of the story. The plot is not quite as original as some other works in the same series.

“The Orb of Semerkhet” by Jeremy Farkas may be the most old-fashioned tale in this issue. In the tradition of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, the protagonist is a mighty figure, wandering through lands full of magic and menace. In this adventure, he becomes involved with a thief who has taken the object in the title from an ancient ruin. She is pursued not only by other thieves, but by an undead sorcerer and his two monstrous servants.

The story is full of action and ghastly horror. (A touch of irony appears in the fact that the hero, an escaped gladiator, claims to hate violence, but is always in the midst of it.) Readers nostalgic for the glory days of Weird Tales are likely to appreciate it more than others.

Victoria Silverwolf is not a swordswoman nor a sorceress.