Clash of Steel: Reluctant Hero, Armand Rosamilia, ed.

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"A Duel of Fathers and Sons" by Patrick Weekes
"An End To Tyranny" by Robert J. Santa
"Hero Home" by Shauna Roberts
"The Brotherhood’s Redemption" by Erin MacKay
"Nightshadows" by Steve Losee

ImageWhen Tangent asked me to review this anthology, I was stoked. My one true love has always been Epic Fantasy. I am extremely glad Carnifex Press put out this book, despite the review that is about to follow, simply because there’s a dearth of markets willing to publish old-school Epic Fantasy these days. For those unsure of what Epic Fantasy means, we’re talking about swords, knight, wizards, castles, dragons, and kings.

Yeah, that type of fantasy!

Perhaps it was because I got my hopes so high that I ended up extremely disappointed. This anthology suffered from bad typos (extra words, misplaced words) and some really bad stories.

"A Duel of Father’s and Sons" by Patrick Weekes tells the story of a son forced to fight for his family honor in an ancient battle. The story never comes to life and for this reason ends up feeling like a bad Saturday morning cartoon written for five-year-olds. The characters were underdeveloped and annoying. The plot execution felt all wrong. The dialogue was extremely stilted. Even the particular way they fought, inside pools of water, bothered me. The best part was the end. Not because the story was finally over—though that was a plus—but rather the first actual "interesting" element in the storyline finally happened, dealing with the identity of the female character, Phazan. I am wondering if this story would have been more interesting and original if the plot had remained the same but told from her point of view. Guess, we’ll never know.

Things get better in the second story. "An End To Tyranny" by Robert J. Santa is a wonderful "idea" story, which revolves around the question of whether the little guy in an army has any effect on the battle. The characters are perfectly crafted for this type of story, the battle is entertaining, and the point of view shift between scenes works extremely well for such a short tale. Unlike traditional stories, this one revolves more around the "idea" than the characters, which is probably why it feels so fresh.

The third story is a mixed bag. "Hero Home" by Shauna Roberts is a thought-provoking tale that shows what can happen when a town exaggerates the legends of its own heroes. This story kept my interest, and the idea behind it is a good one, but the character switch at the very end doesn’t work in my opinion. It’s hard to discuss why without giving away major spoilers, so I’ll let you read for yourselves and decide if you agree.

"The Brotherhood’s Redemption" by Erin MacKay is easily the best story in the group. A sad tale that inspires hope about a fallen, drunk knight confronting the betrayers of the kingdom, and rediscovering himself in the process. The plot twist at the end was incredible; made even better by the fact that Mackay doesn’t cheat and sets up the twist during the body of the story. It bodes well for the writer when the longest story in the anthology reads quicker than the shortest.

And now we come to the shortest and last story of the anthology. "Nightshadows" by Steve Losee is easily the worst inclusion in the book. This story about an assassin running an errand for a wizard could best be described as a mishmash of fantasy cliches thrown together in an attempt to create an uninspiring tale. If you like that sort of story, then maybe you’ll like this, but I’ve seen other writers try this technique and it usually turns out awful. I think Losee describes his story perfectly when he writes, "Stakeout is one of the least enjoyable parts of my work. It’s risky, because it’s boring." He’s got the boring part right, however this story is hardly risky.

In overview, the main problem with this anthology is very simple: you get two crappy stories, one mediocre story, and two great stories. For a collection of five, I only have tolerance for one story that doesn’t impress. The rest better razzle and dazzle. The fact that the two worst stories were chosen to be the opener and closer, not to mention the sloppy copyediting, doesn’t bode well for the editor, Armand Rosamilia. So while I desire to see more support for Epic Fantasy and small publishers like Carnifex Press, in good conscience I can’t recommend this title.
Publisher: Carnifex Press
ISBN: 0-9759727-0-7
Binding: Stapled Chapbook
Pages: 64
Price (US): $5.95
Publication Date: March 15th 2005