Hello, my darklings!

Well, here we are at the end of February. It’s hard to believe we’re already nearly a quarter of the way into 2021. For today’s review, we’ll be looking at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #47, and it’s seems so strange to think that the editors posted issue #46 this past November, but it feels like it was just last week.

There’s a lot to look forward to in issue #47, though. Along with three new, fresh short stories, there are also three poems, and some great artwork. As usual for these reviews, the original review focused on the three short stories, and was written for Tangent Online (see the original review here). However, I wanted to touch on the rest of the issue, too.

That said, I write a bit of poetry here and there, but I am far from being an expert in its nuances and analysis. So, bear with me.

The Poems

“Dragon’s Hoard” by Dawn Vogel is a quick, three-stanza piece comparing one’s love for and collection of books to that of a dragon’s hoard. On the surface, it might appear more accurate to say that the speaker is a dragon with a different idea of treasure than others of its kind but, looking deeper, I’d say it’s a touch meta. The author is talking about herself and a love for books, history, and knowledge rather than material goods. It’s a poem to which I can definitely relate, for sure.

In “Rabbit Foot,” Colleen Anderson discusses the use of items in sympathetic magic. In this case, it’s a rabbit foot, sought after by humans for good luck, but the foot obviously wasn’t that lucky for the rabbit. Anderson’s musings on the cruelty of it and similar practices is not without merit. Any seasoned praticitioner knows that the magic lies within themselves, not within an item.

“The Wind Through the Fields” by Aidan Redwing is a sad but enjoyable poem. Too often, I think, we forget that the tale of the battle may be exciting, but those that fought it had their own stories as well—stories that are often forgotten, ploughed under to make way for new lives.

 

The Stories

“The Medallion’s Song” by Ginny Patrick

Just a few short hours ago, slave girl Serena was granted her freedom by Lady Ima. Along with that document, Ima had also given her a singing medallion, one that Ima’s husband, Lord Avidan, was desperate to possess now that his wife was dead. Knowing that Avidan might not be willing to honor his wife’s wishes, Serena flees the castle and takes the medallion to an old charm merchant, Oved, who specializes in magical objects to find out its value. It might hold some small enchantment on it but, right now, she needs money. With Avidan’s men in pursuit, she must find a way out of the city and this medallion is it.

Although it’s not obvious at first, Patrick’s story is a tale of revenge—and a satisfying one, at that. I quite like the twist with the antagonist. It’s one I certainly did not see coming. The villain feels a tad formulaic at first but, as the reader learns more, he starts to make sense, especially given the social status of women in Patrick’s world. That said, I’m not fully invested in the paragraphs describing the legend behind Bethshera’s treasures. As a reader, I prefer social messages to be couched in subtext, not overtly stated. While I see how it fits into a world that severely oppresses women, the fabled sorceress’s rumored reasoning for creating her ensorcelled artifacts is a little too on the nose. In the context of the story, I get it—I just feel that it could have been more believably presented without coming across as a public service announcement. Either way, though, it’s still a great story.

“The Silver Light of Forever” by Mike Adamson

Born to poverty, Gareth has spent a lifetime working his way up the ranks in Duke Manorino’s army. Each year at harvest time, the duke promised him a phial of moonflower potion as a reward for his service and, each year, the duke failed to follow through. Now, at fifty years old, as Gareth watches the peasants forced to harvest by moonlight the silver flowers that produce the coveted immortality serum, he is faced with the reality that the duke never intends to make good on his promise when he learns that the phial will yet again go to another. Enraged, Gareth decides to take matters into his own hands by stealing the potion. There’s just one problem in his way—the duke’s vicious Castellan, Enrico.

When it comes to sympathetic and relatable characters, Adamson hits the mark with Gareth. It’s easy to understand just why this hardened, loyal soldier finally breaks, allowing him to seriously entertain thoughts of what amounts to nothing more than outright treason. Even Enrico, who is at first set up to be something of a villain, is easy to understand, and he goes in a direction I did not see coming. I honestly found myself liking him by the end of the tale, even though he remains a somewhat shameful figure. As for the storyline, it’s engrossing. I found myself deeply invested in the outcome, which is something that doesn’t happen often enough. Though this is a short story, I wouldn’t mind reading more about either Enrico or Gareth, to be honest. A recommended read, this one!

“Winter Luck” by Evan Dicken

An unnatural blizzard has settled over the mountains surrounding Katsurayama. The Uesugi fortress was under attack by Takeda forces. After barely surviving an ambush by enemy samurai while trying to locate a lost patrol, warrior Haru is confronted by a ghostly woman dressed in white courtier’s robes. She reaches out her hand and as if in a trance, he begins to wade through the deep snow towards her. But just as she touches his skin, a shout from behind breaks the spell, causing the woman to dissipate. Seconds later, more attackers materialize, but Haru is rescued by his most trusted scout, Murakami. As the two struggle up the mountain path to Katsurayama, Haru wonders whether the spirit woman he saw was real. If so, just what is she, and how much of their current situation is her fault?

Dicken’s story is a wonderful alternate history. It reimagines the real-life events that took place in the 16th Century during Japan’s Siege of Katsurayama, mixing it with the regional folklore of the Yuki-onna, or snow woman, a spirit who preys on travelers in the Japanese Alps. The tale opens mid-battle, and Dicken’s description of the fighting is very well-choreographed. While the two previous stories focused more on systemic oppression, Dicken tackles the type encountered in war when fighting against a relentless aggressor that not only has one greatly outnumbered but also trapped in a less-than-ideal defensive position with little chance for victory. As far as the ending goes, it’s sad but stays true to the historical fate of Katsurayama. I highly recommend this tale!