“The Man in Chains” by Harry Piper
Reviewed by Anne Crookshanks
What would the narrator and his shieldbrothers not do for Cymria, or Wales as it is usually known today? Would their Lord Rhaig, at odds with his fellow lords and increasingly disturbed and silent, lead his men on a dark quest to a dark tower? Oh, yes.
Fighting together, the Anglisch are so much stronger than the Cymru. There is no way they won’t take over without some sort of miracle. Perhaps an evil miracle. “The Man in the Chains,” by Harry Piper, is in many ways a straightforward story of the wickedness men will do—or allow to be done—so that a greater good might triumph. Might.
It’s an enjoyable read with plenty of worthy literary antecedents (Welsh battle bard Aneurin and early horror master Polidori), and its nicely written villain could easily be incorporated into an RPG by a game master who enjoys waxing lyrical.
In a world of ebbing magic where women fighters are often unremarkable, there is a remarkable female knight named Aislinn. “Premier knight of the land” is what the grumpy wizard who narrates Martin Rose‘s “Eyes or No Eyes” calls her. Unfortunately, Prince Ryne, heir to the throne of a chronically ailing king, has all the usual vices that princes may with none of the virtues. And our wizard suspects that he had something to do with the ill-fated joust that cost Aislinn her vision and her vocation. Although the premise has promise, the story needs smoothing, particularly in terms of pacing the events and developing characters, as neither the prince nor Aislinn are sufficiently well-drawn to make the story effective. The wizard-narrator is much more developed, but he is not quite enough to make up for the other two principals.
In Adrian Simmons’ “Seven Moves on an Ordrulk Board,” Muriq, a poor potter’s son from the city, has gone to the Governor’s Forest to try to capture some doves. The priests want them to sacrifice to the gods, which may persuade them to lift the threat of the bluenail plague from his family. Things are not going well for Muriq. First, he sees the bodies of merchants strung up in trees. A warning that he probably should have heeded. Then Muriq almost runs into soldiers who are poaching gazelles while on patrol.
Afraid of demons and djinn and eeshu, and, yes, the soldiers who, having spotted him, pursue him, the boy takes cover in the gutter of a deliberately ruined city.
That’s when he hears the voice of an abandoned god who promises Muriq everything he wants. Of course, there’s a price, and it will get steeper as Muriq finds other things he believes he needs. But there is a game the poor boys play in his city against powerful men called Ordrulk. Move by move, a clever boy can win a fortune. Muriq thinks he might be able to win much more than that: a safe and happy future for everyone he loves.
The setting and careful build of Simmons’ trickster tale is beautifully and wickedly detailed as it follows a good son’s well-intentioned path.