“Beast Hunter’s Song” by Michael Liguori
Reviewed by Ryan Holmes
“Beast Hunter’s Song” by Michael Liguori tells the tale of an old Master Hunter named Sedrick. He specializes in Trogons, the greatest of all the monstrous beasts in the Underlands. Never heard of a Trogon? That’s Sedrick’s problem. These beasts are far more dangerous than dragons but don’t attack cities, so few people know about them. Hence, dragon hunters get all the glory, and all the gold. Sedrick’s problem is compounded by being too good at his job. The Underlands are no longer a threat; his job is no longer required. An old dog like Sedrick can’t just start anew hunting dragons, despite the reduced risk and increased pay, which begs the question why a hunter would take on the Underlands in the first place. Sedrick is a metaphor for any senior employee who is trapped by their specialization, refuses to further their education, and resents the younger employees put in charge of them. There’s potential for a complex story here, but unfortunately it falls short by no small means due to Sedrick no longer being needed until a Trogon, which doesn’t attack cities, attacks a city and does so without any explanation why. The story slips further down the illogical slope when the High Lord demands his highly unqualified, dragon-hunting son, Garen, lead the band of hunters, again with no apparent motive. As soon as Garen encounters the first Underlands beast, an underling compared to a Trogon, he turns into a sniveling coward who gets Sedrick’s men killed. For some reason, Sedrick doesn’t kill the dolt when he has good reason. Instead, Sedrick finds the Trogon, commits a rookie mistake (he kicks a bone) that alerts the beast, and gets the rest of his men killed. While Garen is hiding, Sedrick manages to kill the Trogon and discovers it has a nest of eggs. It’s his duty to destroy them, but he sees a prolonged career in poorly paid obscurity if he lets them hatch. Garen sees the eggs, suddenly becomes all noble again now that the Trogon is dead, and demands they destroy them. Naturally, Sedrick kills him. The only likeable character is Sedrick’s sidekick, Tannorin, but he gets eaten when Sedrick kicks the bone.
Linda Donahue’s “White Elephants” is a story about Darius, a treasure guard charged with escorting an Indian princess, Sitara, and the treasure of India, a white elephant. Darius fails his duty when the elephant, along with its rider, Sitara, are snatched away in the claws of a giant bird. Darius is given a flying carpet and charged with rescuing the prized elephant, as no one but Darius cares about the princess. Darius finds them both alive and discovers the princess is more than she appears. Custom demands he kill her, but he is bewitched by her beauty. When he returns to the shah with the elephant and the princess, he is rewarded handsomely but with a slight catch. The story benefits from detailed descriptions, magical elements of Persian lore, an aerial battle, and a curious plot twist that will leave the reader contemplating the value of outward beauty.
“Engines Rarely Seen” by N. G. Lancaster involves a reluctant hero, a giant, who is talked into helping the Grift, a sell-sword, get payback for his male whore, String, whose family of foresters was ambushed by dock workers, before they all go off to war the next day. The giant is joined by a sorceress friend who uses outlawed idolatry magic and hates the accepted blood-magic. They fight the dock workers and the sorceress loses an eye to a blood mage. After they head off to war, the giant is placed with other giants, and the sorceress has joined the blood mages she despises. There’s the framework for interesting characters here, but none are fully realized. The sorceress’s idolatry magic is imaginative but lacks any development of a limitation or a weakening side effect. As a whole, the story feels like a scene ripped out of a larger tome, and it’s done well enough to entice the reader to go looking for the missing pages.
Ryan Holmes is a Marine Corps grunt turned aerospace engineer for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and writes science fiction and fantasy in life’s scant margins. You can find his blog at: www.griffinsquill.blogspot.com