Preston Dennett’s tale of an outcast, a half-mad sage, and a young girl exploring a land plagued by a near-sentient darkness gives the reader plenty of mystery, magic, action, and even romance, but his delivery never rises above workmanlike. Dennett writes impending doom well. He writes casual banter well. The decision to do both at the same time in this story doesn’t allow either of those skills to truly shine.He conveys a real sense of malice and ever present danger within the dark lands that are the setting for most of this short story, but the frequent sly winks at the reader and the light, teasing behavior of the characters provides a jarring contrast. As a result, the story cannot seem to decide if it wants to be a dark and harrowing journey, or an amusing lark into mystery, and the lack of clear focus prevents this story from taking full advantage of Dennett’s talents.
As any old school gamer knows, there’s nothing like a dungeon crawl. Edward McDermmott spins this short tale of a man pursued by demons of the literal sort who trap the hero of the piece inside the sort of dungeon that would do any DM proud. The dungeon crawler explores a large complex and faces the usual sorts of troubles. He needs light, faces unseen things that scrabble in the dark, encounters bizarre lost shrines to long forgotten gods, and discovers hidden doors through clever observation. He even faces danger of a far more alluring kind. Overall, a tight and compact story, but the challenge of temptation faced by the brave adventurer, and the ending of his troubles in the dungeon, feel a little rushed, even by the standards of short fiction.