Black Gate Online, July 2013
Reviewed by Bob Blough
This issue of Black Gate is a very uneven one.
Jamie McEwen‘s novelette “Falling Castles” concerns Prince Tanek of Luria who defies his father to attack his enemy’s castle with stealth rather than the army-facing-army tactic on the honored field of battle. The stealth approach does not go as smoothly as hoped but in the end is successful. This story disappointed me greatly. The only word I have for it is pedestrian. It’s not wincingly bad, but there’s no spark to any part that kept it alive, not the prose, the characters, or the plot.
The next story, however, is the kind of story for which Black Gate was created. “The Highwater Harbor” by Aaron Bradford Starr is a superior fantasy about a roguish band of three – Gloren, a Gallery Hunter, Yr Neh, a talking cat of noble birth, and their chronicler Aven Penworthy. This novella contains evil magics, pirates, mysteries, secret keys and a plethora of other fun stuff all written in delicious prose that at times is truly humorous:
“Yr Neh, visibly upset, explained that his calculations, based on historical records, indicated that the Island’s active cycle was due to restart in a year or so, but, given that the island had obviously started early this time around, full activity could, perhaps, occur on a timescale more closely resembling anybody’s guess at all.”
Oh, and did I mention volcanoes? This is the fourth story in an ongoing series and is complete in itself. It put me in mind of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series of adventures. Each of their tales stood alone but left you wanting to see more. So did “The Highwater Harbor.” And I think that is the highest praise I can give the author. This is the real deal. Please enjoy it.