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Month: June 2019

Review: Deep Magic #65, Summer 2019

Review: Deep Magic #65, Summer 2019

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, June 18, 2019

“His Lady’s Favor” by K.D. Julicher
“Expectation of Privacy” by L.B. Spillers
“The Greatest Knife Wielder” by Django Mathijsen
“Lutwidge Ranch” by Daniel Welker
“Hall of the Diamond Queen” by Anthony Ryan

“His Lady’s Favor” by K.D. Julicher is set in a somewhat traditional fantasy world where mages draw runes into armor and squires and knights fight in a semblance of gladiatorial combat. Rina is a mage who has just lost her position as a runesmith after a knight gets injured while wearing her latest armor. In a rush of panic, she goes to her old lover, Edrick, a great warrior who retired after accidentally killing an opponent in a tournament. Together, they work to get Rina’s talents observed by patrons so she can grow to become the greatest runesmith the world has known. But, in order to achieve this, they must face their individual fear of loss. For Edrick, this is tackling his guilt over killing a man; for Rina, it’s overcoming Edrick’s disappearance following the accident.

Overall, “His Lady’s Favor” is, at its core, a sweet story about two young lovers and the trials that tear them apart. The magic system and world-building are well done and feels organic when displayed. That said, I felt like the stakes weren’t super high here, leading to a lot of pseudo-tense moments that happened to work out for the better. The story, while worth a read, is sadly a little too predictable.

L.B. Spillers‘ “Expectation of Privacy” is a story that always feels like it’s a hair away from greatness. The protagonist, Veli, works in a far future world where a network of AIs known as Certified Surveillance watch over a super advanced New York City, which is referred to as the “City.” Veli is working his way through college in the hopes of becoming a doctor, but when he’s not accepted into med school because of an ambiguous “social score,” he gives up a bit and starts moving black market goods outside of the City. Throughout all this, an AI, known as the Administrator, is present in his mind. Added to this is the fact thatVeli’s sister is on the losing side of a cancer battle, which drives him farther into the seedier side of the courier trade.

All this changes when the Administrator starts confiding in Veli that the AI is monitoring him even when it’s not supposed to under the guise of caring for its staff. This leads to a series of incidents resulting in Veli making a choice: trust the Administrator or run away.

I really wanted to enjoy this story. There’s a ton here to love, from world-building to interesting secondary characters, to this subjective “social score” I got the impression was similar to The Orville‘s “Majority Rule” episode, but all of these things stop a hair earlier than I felt they needed to land right. For example, Veli’s sister, Izzy, is an amazing, powerful character, but we only see her a couple times and rarely as anything but window dressing to add stakes. The same goes for this “social score;” it’s trotted out early on, then when he doesn’t get into med school, it’s then discarded.

I wish there was a little more here; if it was a tad deeper or I could connect to Veli a little more—he reads rather flat to me—I’d be ecstatic. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, though it does end with a nice little callback joke that made me smile.

Is ego more important than love? If Django Mathijsen‘s “The Greatest Knife Wielder” is any indication, then yes. In this story, a man, Master Marso, adopts two kids as his assistants, then trains them in his miraculous knife throwing act. As they grow up, Master Marso starts teaching the young boy, Remald, how to use a magic pendant to control the direction of his throwing knives, eventually leading to the two doing collaborative tricks.

As Remald gets older, he starts wanting some recognition, which ultimately leads to Master Marso’s jealousy getting out of hand.

“The Greatest Knife Wielder” really shines in the way it deals with the psychology of a child as they grow up in the spotlight. Beyond that, it fell a bit flat for me. Mathijsen takes a “less is more” approach to description later in the story that didn’t resonate with me. Many times, it left me feeling like the action was taking place in a white room. Additionally, Alleira, the other adopted child, feels like a one-dimensional prop for Remald rather than a companion. Overall, it’s a sweet story, but don’t expect anything earth shattering.

“Lutwidge Ranch” by Daniel Welker isn’t at all what I expected. We follow Robbyn as he goes about his daily life managing the Lutwidge Ranch like his grandfather, the aging warrior Timber. When the mythical Jabberwock arrives to torment the town, Robbyn takes his next step toward becoming the man he wants to be.

Most of the plot revolves around Robbyn’s love of his childhood sweetheart, Hannah. It’s written in such a true, endearing way I found it hard not to smile as Robbyn stumbles through the motions of courtship. When Robbyn eventually offers an off-the-cuff proposal and Hannah accepts, I spent several minutes snickering to myself.

It’s easy to try and import deeper meaning to this story than it has. At its core is this idea of growing up and what that means when you’re the last person left in your family. There’s not a whole lot of tension here as it reads like a middle-grade or children’s story. Then again, it doesn’t pretend to be deeper than it is, which I must grudgingly accept as admirable.

In the end, I think the message is doing what you need to do for those you love and, if anything, I can say that’s not a bad way to live.

“Hall of the Diamond Queen” by Anthony Ryan tells the tale of Sharrow-met, the Wraith-Queen, and commander of the armies of a dark force known as The Voice. When Sharrow-met finally takes the final city on the continent, she’s forced to confront her own humanity as well as a past that’s been hidden from her for her entire life.

This story felt simple until I got about halfway through, at which point most of my assumptions were tossed in the trash. Ryan does a great job setting the reader up to think Sharrow-met is someone she’s not and when the reveal happens, I was emotionally shocked, even if I’d started suspecting the hook by then. Like many of the other stories in this issue, there doesn’t seem to be any deeper meanings or life lessons hidden within the text, but I don’t think it needs it. It’s a fun tale with a nice twist in the middle.

Review: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #278, May 23, 2019

Review: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #278, May 23, 2019

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, May 23, 2019

The Two-Bullet War” by Karen Osborne
Abacus of Ether” by Stephen Case

“The Two-Bullet War” by Karen Osborne is a story steeped with beautiful social and narrative metaphors. At its most basic, “The Two-Bullet War” is a story about royal succession following the death of the queen. The main character, Mila, is the queen’s chosen Gun, a sort of Justiciar for the kingdom. Mila is also one of the “Mountain folk,” whom were once viewed as subhuman until the queen changed that view and opened their borders. When the queen dies, one of her sons, Karstan, decides to challenge his brother’s claim for the throne. Karstan is an isolationist and racist, while his brother, Alidar, wants to maintain the regime his mother built.

The twist here is that instead of fighting a full civil war, the two princes choose champions to fight for them with the loser dying along with the defeated champion. Karstan chooses Mila due to her skill and Alidar chooses Mila’s secret lover/husband.

The conflict setup is as complex as the social structure Osborne creates. From the first word, there’s barely a moment to breathe. There are a few times it feels like the story is about to spiral out of control as Osborne threads in yet another subplot, but she manages it skillfully, ending the story with a few sentences that somehow wrap up every plot thread introduced. In short, it’s a great story and well worth a read. Also, it’s Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ Audio Podcast story for this issue and the reader does the story justice.

“Abacus of Ether” by Stephen Case is told through the point of view of Madam Gray, a blind actuary who uses magical ink to write insurance policies for soldiers going off to a losing war. Her employee, Magdalena, employs a different type of magic to predict the future of those looking for insurance; she’s a Taster and reads a person’s fate by drinking blood from their lips. When one of the king’s generals shows up at Madam Gray’s home, she’s faced with making a choice: maintain her honor and reputation or lie to the king and stop the war.

Case’s descriptions and world-building throughout are splendid. He somehow manages to weave a wonderfully complex vision for a character without sight in a way that lets us enjoy the story visually. It’s a challenge, but it’s one he’s managed wonderfully. Honestly, it’s probably as challenging as crafting an engaging tale about an insurance salesperson. Overall, a great story and worth your time.