The Witch of Elrica
A nice light read featuring an illegitimate prince who falls for a foreign sorceress. Stories like these are the glue that hold a magazine like Cirsova together. This isn’t a deep or particularly meaningful story, but it hits all the right notes. It’s a straight ahead fantasy that gives you a taste of politics, a bit of magic, and a fight where the stakes are real and important. It also features a cast of sympathetic royal characters struggling to find a path through trouble caused by old customs and an easily riled populace. Jennifer Povey’s unpretentious style here is a welcome breath of fresh air.
The Vault of Phalos
The light read of The Witch of Elrica is followed by a heavy handed tale, and it works. You’ve had your palette cleansed, and you’re ready to sink your teeth into something meaty, and Jeffery Scott Sims is there for you, man. His comma-filled prose is wordy, dense, and almost poetic:
A company of armored legionnaires trooped down the rocky defile from the chill forest into the green valley wherein lay Maronais amidst its budding fields. At their helm, on powerful steeds, rode two of Dyrezan’s finest, the aristocrats Nantrech and Morca, the former a wide-ranging scholar esteemed for his legendary mind, the latter famed for his prowess in battle. Both belonged to the highest rank among magicians, and their sending into such an isolated region indicated the importance, and understood in their distant home, of this undertaking.
This is the sort of story that makes me love Cirsova. The seventh story in Cirsova’s Winer 2016 issue represents the first no-foolin’ science-fiction story. The Sands of Rubal-Khali hints at a broader sci-fi setting, but the story has its feet planted firmly in a pre-gunpowder fantasy setting. The Bubbcat takes place in a near-future that feels very much like today’s world, only more so. The general plot is a chase scene featuring a protagonist holding onto a powerful MacGuffin, and always trying to stay one step ahead of the billionaire tycoon that wants the MacGuffin for her own. Alex Monaghan tells this story with a deft touch, packing a lot of information into very few words. The whole story – plot, motivation, setting – is presented in a casual, almost off-handed manner that forces the reader to pay close attention and fill in a lot of gaps. The resulting slow reveal gives the end of this story a lot more punch than it should. Given the shortness of the story, it’s astonishing how much investment Monaghan draws out of the reader.
A Suit of Haidrah SkinHere’s another story that cheerfully dances along the line between fantasy and science-fiction, gleefully pulling ideas and touches from both and mashing them together into the pulpy style of adventure that just feels right. An ancient wizard’s tower/rocket ship returns to the planet from whence it was banished after a long and terrible war. When the great heroes die casual deaths fighting the menace head-on, a barbarian girl gets some advice from an oracle that leads to a much more convoluted heist/assassination mission. Rob Lang’s writing doesn’t leap off the page the way Jeffery Scott Sims or Schuyler Hernstrom’s does, given that this adventure tale features so many new and imaginative creatures, villains, tricks, and traps, that’s actually a good thing. The prose remains unobtrusive and allows the weirdness of the setting and characters to take center stage.