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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #26, November 2015

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Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #26, November 2015

The Blue Lamp” by Robert Zoltan

Beggar’s Belief” by Jon Byrne
The Voice of the Green Flame” by J.R. Restrick

Reviewed by Nicky Magas

Curiosity killed the cat, or at least, imprisoned the warrior in Robert Zoltan’s “The Blue Lamp.” Tired of his companion’s self centered attitude, Blue, an Indari warrior, sets out on his own to seek his fortune, or maybe just to get some air. What he finds is a traveling curiosity shop with extraordinary statues for sale. Bathed in the blue-filtered light of a nearby lamp, these statues of people from all walks of life are cut in exquisite, uncanny detail. But missing from the collection is a statue of his own people. That is, at least, until the merchant pulls off the veil from the lamp and banishes Blue’s soul into the illuminating enchanted crystal, leaving his statuesque body behind. With no one else to rely on, Blue must unlock the secret of the blue lamp, if he has any hope of returning to his body.

The Blue Lamp” has a thrilling if predictable plot that bounces back and forth between the point of view of Blue and his pompous companion, Dareon Vin. Zoltan introduces the characters and the world with a familiarity that suggests this is a serial piece or, if not, a short view of a much larger body of connected works. Because of this, it feels as if the reader is supposed to be familiar with these characters. Descriptions of the key figures are somewhat vague, especially in the case of Dareon. However, these details are not necessary to the story itself, which is an action packed sword and sorcery tale, needing only a premise and an enemy to defeat in order to accomplish its goal. To this end the prose, the dialogue, and characters do their part smoothly and come together to give the lesson that two swords are always better than one.

In Jon Byrne’s “Beggar’s Belief,” Doki The Unsmiling One has been a beggar on the streets of Pozanak for as long as he can remember. Life has always been cruel to him, kicking a hungry man with a gimp arm while he’s down. But Doki has always managed to scrape by, if just, with his dignity and his morals intact. When an outlander woman named Sister Derelin shows up, giving succor to the poor and downtrodden, shining a light of kindness where none before shone, and healing—yes, even healing—those most miserably in need of her, it’s almost too good to be true. But the more Doki gains from her compassion the less convincing he needs to believe that Sister Derelin is the real deal. Unfortunately, an angel of mercy isn’t the only thing that has entered the streets of Pozanak. Something much darker and more sinister is casting a shadow over all of Sister Derelin’s charity, and threatens to rob the poor of the hero they so desperately need.

The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad in “Beggar’s Belief.” There are no twists or turns in this story, only a straightforward good vs. evil plot that offers no surprises. The educated cadence of the first person narration belies Doki’s thirty-year life as a beggar and makes it difficult for the reader to become fully immersed in his story. The sharply linear plot makes the connection between Doki, the cultists’ activities, Sister Derelin’s appearance seem disjointed and coincidental, leading to an overall feeling of dissatisfaction lingering at the end. The story relies heavily on chance and out of character events to drive the plot, further leaving the reader distinctly aware that they are reading a fiction, rather than experiencing the narrative as fully as they could.

Kaledar’s father is dead, leaving him the king of a besieged citadel in J. R. Restrick’s “The Voice of the Green Flame.” The Barbarian army pounding on the gates has proven immovable, and Kaledar’s options seem to have whittled down to one desperate last stand. Or so his captain of the guard would have him believe. Kaledar knows they have a final move at their disposal: Sepolis Mountain, and the keepers of the green flame. Whether they be priests, mystics or some kind of otherworldly immortal, they wield a great power, and through them Kaledar sees the last light of hope that could shine upon his people and his homeland.

The Voice of the Green Flame” fulfills its obligations as an action fantasy story; swords are swung and monsters are slain, all on the eve of an epic battle. Unfortunately, it fails to go much deeper than this. Part of the reason for this feeling is the wasted word count on the expositional introduction. The bulk of the story focuses around Kaledar on his own fighting his way through the tunnels of the mountain. This could have given Kaledar ample time to consider the overarching conflict internally, which would have given the ending more emotional weight as well. The wooden in medias res opening leeches away this impact by giving the reader all of Kaledar’s motivations in as-you-know-Bob dialogue with his captain. This then reduces Kaledar’s involvement in the story to ‘kill monster A, pull lever B, and receive enchanted wisdom C.’ “The Voice of the Green Flame” isn’t without charm, however. Readers who enjoy an uncomplicated fantasy adventure story with a twist ending will most likely find this story satisfying.