Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Black Gate Issue #13

Happy is the fantasy reader who opens his or her mailbox to discover the latest issue of Black Gate. Sad is the fantasy reader who finishes reading that issue because the next will not arrive for another six months.

Overall, I liked this issue because it combined returning writers with new writers, pumping some fresh blood into the pages. I did notice a bit of a boat theme that was probably unintentional (words like “prow” and “gunwales” were found in multiple stories). Congratulations, John O’Neill and Howard Andrew Jones, for putting another great issue together.

“The Beautiful Corridor” by Jonathan L. Howard –A skillful thief named Kyth infiltrates a mausoleum-temple, seeking a safe route to Maten Shal’s throne room, but she has to outwit the architect who protected the building with numerous traps.

I liked how this story flowed up until the final scene. The tension dropped considerably, and it seemed to last too long.

“The Good Sheriff” by David Wsley Hill – Displaced from his own time by millions of years, Charles Duke seeks help from Rascale, a wizard with the power to send Duke back home. Rascale requires that Duke pay him in good, a tangible item in this alien world of gods, demons and humans. Duke accepts a position as sheriff in order to earn what Rascale covets, and he works the job with the demeanor he’d learned as a hired gun of the Wild West in 1879.

This was one of the most unique stories I’ve seen in Black Gate for a while. Duke is a great character, and it’s fun to read about a western lawman working among demons and other odd creatures.

“The Face in the Sea” by John C. Hocking – After rescuing the chieftain’s daughter, Brand and his comrades sail back to their home. Before they can celebrate their efforts, they find the girl’s captor in close pursuit, aided by his powerful shaman, whose face taunts them from the sea as he works against them.

This had the feel of a good Viking tale. Fantasy works well in a Norse setting, I think, and Hocking did a good job delivering it.

“Naktong Flow” by Myke Cole – Ch’oe and his men accompany the mysterious yangban in an effort to thwart the ever-encroaching Waegu by using a machine to turn the river against them. The yangban departs alone with the machine and asks the men to wait for his return, but when he fails to rejoin them, Ch’oe considers disobedience, especially as the Waegu begin to pick off his men one at a time.

I liked the tension in this story, and it certainly didn’t go where I thought it might. It seems like this should be part of a longer work. Not that it wasn’t a complete tale, but I wanted to know more about this world.

“The Murder at Doty Station” by Matthew Bey – Easy and Gonzo stop at Doty Station for supplies, and during their stay, a giant manikin kills the station’s ogre. Easy is arrested even though the evidence clearly shows her innocence, so she seeks to solve the crime after Gonzo frees her from jail.

This story is quirky and funny. The role of manikins seemed akin to the science-fiction of Asimov’s I, Robot. This felt like a very atypical story in Black Gate, but I enjoyed reading it.

“The Evil Eater” by Peadar Ó Guilín – Toby steals a gold leaf invitation to Ahriman’s, an extremely exclusive restaurant, to impress his girlfriend. When they arrive for dinner, they find the simple meal to be quite overrated until they taste it, discovering that the food unlocks blissful memories. Unfortunately, the bill is so steep that they must work in the restaurant to pay it off, and it is a perilous service.

Creepy, but in a good way, Guilín’s story adds a dash of horror to the issue. I became attached to the protagonist despite all of his lies and tricks just to get into the restaurant to begin with. Toby is simply a loveable character.

“Bones in the Desert, Stones in the Sea” by Amy Tibbetts – Aleem’s sister was alienated from the rest of her village after conceiving a half-breed child from one of the uttuk pillagers because she sought to carry it to full term. Aleem arrives after her death that occurred during childbirth, and he must deal with the tragic loss of his sister as well as figure out the most merciful way to kill her offspring.

I felt like this was the heart of the issue. A brother torn by the loss of a sister he’d had little contact with once they became adults, forced to confront his duties of honoring her wishes to have a child that she conceived out of rape. This was a really moving piece that seemed to go beyond just the story itself, one that I’d like to see up for an award.

“The Merchant of Loss” by Justin Stanchfield and Mikal Trimm – Galen brings a wagon of strange wares into the Bitter Hills, an assorted collection of “effluvia of daily life.” He encounters a secretive woman who seeks a trade between the breath of her name and a locked box from Galen’s wagon.

This was my favorite story of the issue. Haunting, captivating and engaging. The story grabbed me and pulled me through to the end.

“Return of the Quill” by John R. Fultz – In the city of Narr, one of the eight sorcerer kings, Grimsort, is lured from his necromantic arts by Artifice the Quill, an exile who seeks to perform a play in exchange for a rare skull. Grimsort agrees to the deal, but the play has a power that sorcery may not be able to contend with.

Another marvelous tale by Fultz, this is perhaps a bit stronger even than “Oblivion is the Sweetest Wine” from Issue #12. It was quite ambitious to give the full history of Narr in the form of a play, and after reading it, I thought, “I can’t believe he just pulled that off.”

“Spider Friend” by L. Blunt Jackson – As a boy, Ch’bib receives a blessing from a spider in gratitude for his kindness, and it extends through all spiders. Though his blessing grants him freedom from pestering flies and the ability to mend fishing nets in a remarkable way, he seeks to end the blessing in order to please the whims of his love interest, Ri’lili.

This was interesting and amusing. I gasped at the climactic ending.

“Silk and Glass” by Sharon E. Woods – Under the promise of freedom, Jas infiltrates Issen to bring a master glassmaker back to her masters in Saria, where his craft secrets will be forcefully drawn from his mind. As a Nonyx, Jas can transform from her dragon-like appearance into that of an attractive woman in order to tempt men. She targets a glassmaker named Yullo, but she’s unable to tempt him without falling in love with him. With her time short, she must decide whether to deceive him for freedom’s sake or to return to Saria alone.

I really enjoyed this one, with its twists and turns and uncertainties. Jas is a very striking protagonist with complex issues that draws readers in.

“The Naturalist, Part III: St. George and the Antriders” by Mark Sumner – After another narrow escape from the antriders, Mr. Brown helps evacuate all the settlers of Selvanos in hopes of sailing out from St. George before the antriders arrive. Unfortunately, the soldiers in control of St. George have other ideas.

As with the previous two parts, this story moves pretty quick. At times, it’s like an older horror movie, when you find yourself spurring the characters out of harm’s way by shouting, “Run! Go!” This was a fun series to read, and I’m glad that I was able to catch all three. For those who haven’t read all of these, I highly recommend collecting some back issues (see page 85 of the issue for details).

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