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

Black Gate Online, May 12, 2013

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Black Gate Online, May 12, 2013

“Niola’s Last Stand” by Vera Nazarian


Reviewed by Dave Truesdale

Niola, a young woman, and her grandmother have packed their meager belongings and are ready to leave their city of Menathis, for the evil army of the Varoh is nearly at the gates, and the entire city is emptying itself before the onslaught of the barbarians. At the last minute, however, Niola’s lame Gran decides she must seek the decaying temple of the goddess Rohatat and pray one last time to the goddess.

While Niola believes this a foolish waste of time, she nevertheless honors her promise to wait for her grandmother, not moving beyond the doorway of their cramped dwelling on one of the city streets. During the cold, lonely wait, a series of gods--wispy wraiths--appear one after the other to her, each presenting her with, in turn, a sword, a shield, and a spear, exhorting her to defend the city at all costs.

How Niola overcomes her disbelief and finds courage within herself to use the heavy, cumbersome weapons when the army of the Vahor breach the walls of her city form the core of the tale. With help from a pair of (magical? imaginary?) beasts she fights the Vahor and is wounded, the finger of one hand lost. She drifts into unconsciousness and the night enfolds her.

The next thing Niola hears is the voice of her grandmother, now returned from her prayers to the goddess Rohatat, and then the rousing voices of her people as they cheer the defenders of Menathis as they sally forth in defense of the city. Has this, then, all been a dream? Has the author used one of the hoariest and denounced clichés in literature as a cheap, sophomoric twist ending to her tale? Think again, and read “Niola’s Last Stand” to discover how sometimes gods both give and take in order to leaven the cosmic balance on the mortal plane, and how one young woman learns that sometimes victory can be won by paying heed to the Goddess of Standing Still.

Best bit of imagery:  It was said in the desert lands of the Compass Rose that one of the stars was in fact the Goddess of Wonder, for she hid in the velvet abyss of night sky from the relentless pursuit of the Lord of Illusion. And sometimes mortals would find her as their gaze searched the heavens, unwitting… And in that moment they would experience a transcendent pang of joy, a reeling sense of the world’s profundity and glory overhead…

Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award four times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Now retired, he keeps close company with his SF/F library, the coffeepot, and old movie channels on TV. He lives in Kansas City, MO.