“A Stone’s Throw” by Howard Andrew Jones
Reviewed by Seraph
“A Stone’s Throw” by Howard Andrew Jones
Jones manages to take the old, and while not making it anew, at least polishes it a bit. Set in a high fantasy world, in the cobblestone streets of a European-style city, it follows an arguably accomplished assassin through the age-old cliché of a man meeting his fate on the road he takes to avoid it. The polish, however, results in that it is not the assassin himself trying to avoid a fate, but a random mage who would likely never have crossed paths with the assassin had an unfortunate fortune-telling incident not set their fates on a collision course. It’s short, well-paced, and thoughtful, and while it doesn’t dwell for long, it does ask the eternal question of whether fate controls our future, or our choices.
“Demons from the Deep” by Adrian Cole
It’s a bold title, and Cole delivers. It’s a fantastical world setting of high magic and swords, set on the continent of Atlantis bestride the sea. It is a little bit unclear as to the nature of Atlantis, be it the pre-cataclysm Greek mythological version, or a time and place of the author’s own creation, but it has the feel of a well established, pre-existing world. The evils that have befallen it are far more familiar, a sorcerer outcast amongst his peers for pursuing banned arts in the service of Lovecraftian Old Gods is chief amongst them. It ends somewhat predictably yet is a fascinating new take on one of my favorite myths. It does move a little fast, and I feel like it could benefit from a little more exposition, but other than that, I have no complaints, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole story.
“Trail of Ashes” by Caleb Williams
One of the oldest compulsions in human nature is the need to put the dead to rest, to seek answers to the circumstances of one’s passing, especially when those circumstances are notably suspicious. Williams paints a world of intrigue and magic, but also corruption and death. A plague sweeps through the Crown City of this fantasy, medieval world, an overt metaphor for the relentless sins of its people, close upon the death of its regent. A conjurer at the end of his life, beset by grief and the moral implication of summoning back the souls of the dead, is called to do the same again for the deceased regent. Predictable twists don’t detract from a methodical, well-paced story deep on questions of faith and long on the need to forgive ourselves.
“The Song Of Black Mountain” by Darrell Schweitzer
Schweitzer is undoubtedly skilled at his craft, and evokes not only deep thought, but introspection in what is hands down the most challenging story I have had the pleasure to review. Set upon the journey, and arrival at, the titular Black Mountain, at first glance it is an unwanted twist upon the medieval sword and sorcery setting. The hero is a jerk, without shame or virtue, and the villain spends most of his time vying between the awards for who can whine the most, or who can most often assert their own “specialness” without any basis whatsoever. However, at the core of this story is a villain who would never have existed without the selfishness and greed of the “hero,” an older brother who drags along his unwilling and weak little brother to chronicle his own glory. Along the path, this wannabe hero, in his shabby armor and wilting horse, “seems” to embody courage and strength, as he voluntarily braves harsh terrain and carries his helpless brother on his back with nary a complaint. When you look more closely, though, these seemingly noble actions were driven by greed and vainglory, not virtue. This is met with gleeful fratricide by the younger, who admits it was for no other reason than he found his older sibling “insufferable.” The younger sibling’s eventual ascension to timeless and supreme evil power was not inevitable, as he claims, nor even necessary. The timeless evil merely preys upon a weak, envious little brother, and upon the needless self-aggrandizement of one who would be hero, who never bothered to be worthy. The message, once seen, is clear: In the absence of virtue and true heroism, evil is not only allowed to grow and flourish, but is in fact encouraged and empowered to do so by those who hide their own failings behind the veneer of nobility.