Sunday, May 15, 2011

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 2: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly

For the second day of Seven Days of Online Fiction, we're looking at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  You might remember that one of the editors, William Ledbetter, sat down with us a few months ago in the first Adventures Fantastic Interview.

There are three stories in this issue.  One of them, "The Dome of Florence" by Richard Marsden, is a novella.  I really like the novella length.  This would have been the story I would have preferred to look at here, but because of its length, it's broken up into two parts.  This is the first part.  For that reason, I'll have to examine it another time. 

That leaves the two short stories.

The longer of the two, "Demon Song" by A. R. Williams, is the tale of Nobuyashi, a samurai seeking vengeance.  It's also a tale of loss and forgetting, how sometimes the things we strive for cause us to lose sight of the reasons we're striving.  There's plenty of supernatural action and swordplay in this one, as well as some philosophy about the differences between honor and justice.  There's more depth to this story than initially appears.  It's obvious early on that some of the characters are ghosts, but the question is which ones?

This story develops the characters in a slightly different way.  Instead of backstory or infodumps about what came before the opening line, Williams develops much Nobuyashi's character through the conversations he has with the people he encounters on his quest for vengeance.  These conversations often take the form of a series of questions asked to him. 

One thing I did find a little annoying was that we aren't told any of the details that led to Nobuyashi's desire for vengeance, nor are we given many details about Uyeda, the man he seeks vengeance against.  For this reason, pay close attention to what the woman in the opening scene tells Nobuyashi about Uyeda.  Once I thought over that exchange, the role Uyeda played in events made much more sense.

This is a story with hidden depths, but it will reward the patient reader who is willing to think about what's going on rather than just follow the action.  This story, to use the rule of thumb I invoked on Day One, would make me read more from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly if it were the first story I ever read there.

The second story is much shorter, and frankly was a bit of a disappointment.  I was expecting something longer and more involved.  The story is "The Baroness Drefelin" by David Pilling.   It's quite short and concerns a knight in love with the Queen of England.  Which one, we're not told, but we are given enough information to know this is fairly soon after the Norman Conquest.  When accused of less than a pure desire for the Queen, he kills his accuser and flees.  While in Wales, he is told of a baroness who is too beautiful to look upon.  Of course, he has to go look.  Things, needless to say, aren't what he is expecting.  They weren't what I was expecting either.

The ending, while different and original, was a bit of a letdown at least to me.  I don't know that this particular tale alone would make me want to read more from this site.

That being said, the two stories when considered together are more than strong enough to make me return to this site.  Not that I need them to do that.  I already read Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  I'm just saying a random look at the quality is overall high.

So, total quality count (high, low), end of Day 2:  2-1.

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