Black Gate Online, May 26, 2013

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Black Gate Online, May 26, 2013

“The Turtle in the Sea of Sand” by Mary Catelli

Reviewed by Dave Truesdale

Mary Catelli gives us a strange land where magic works and the seas are not of water but of sand. On the docks of a village next to such a sea comes young Kyre, a small dock-rat of a boy looking for work. A young nobleman–sailor and wizard–hails young Kyre and employs him to guard his small boat and the enchanted chest it holds while he departs for a short visit to the town. Despite his vigilance and best efforts Kyre is assailed by thieves cloaked in invisibility and the boat he has sworn to guard is stolen.

A lad of honor and practicality (he does not want his name besmirched), Kyle rents a boat and takes off after the thieves. Word of the theft has traveled quickly and ere long Kyle meets up with the nobleman-wizard as they both trail the thieves to a nearby island. During a spell-casting confrontation with the thieves the wizard-nobleman is mortally wounded, the thieves dispatched (thanks in great part to Kyre), and the lad’s dying employer becomes his benefactor, bequeathing to Kyre his boat and its contents (writing the words on paper with a magical pen that needs no ink), among them a stone turtle that Kyre is told will give him great riches.

What Kyre discovers about the magical stone turtle as well as what he discovers within himself closes the tale out effectively, especially what he decides about the magical pen and its value as opposed to that of the turtle, supposedly of much greater value.

At 4,800 words, a tight focus is appreciated and understood, but at the end we realize we have no idea what Kyre looks like aside from his lack of height, nor that of the nobleman-wizard, nor that of the uncloaked thieves. We know frustratingly little of the seaside village save for a few lines of dialogue from a vendor or two (and that its docks hold large and small craft), or any other relevant detail about this world of sand seas instead of water seas. It struggles to live in the mind as little more than a black and white two-dimensional sketch, and not a fully realized, living and breathing world (or even a small slice thereof). All of which could have been supplied with a well-chosen sentence or two here or there, or a bit of descriptive detail adding a few words to the word count but not distracting in any way the focus from young Kyre, whose story this definitely is.

And in a world where magic lives and the strange is accepted, we never learn why the stone turtle (hidden in the enchanted chest) is so valuable in the first place, its secret never revealed. Was it not the theft of same that propelled the events of the story in the first place?

“The Turtle in the Sea of Sand” is “okay,” a decent effort, but could have been so much better had the author not borrowed the spell of invisibility from the thieves to mask a clearer view of the characters and world of which she tells. All it would have taken would have been a few strokes of the author’s mortal pen — no need for a magical one here.

Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award four times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Now retired, he keeps close company with his SF/F library, the coffeepot, and old movie channels on TV. He lives in Kansas City, MO.