Black Gate #15 by John O’Neill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I spoke with editor John O'Neill about this issue of Black Gate at Wiscon this Spring (incidentally, John may be one of the nicest people you'll meet in the industry - a real gentleman and scholar and nerd, which is meant in only the most complimentary of ways). He told me that his intention for this issue was to compile as many stories written by women that he could. That failing, he wanted to present as many stories that featured female characters, both protagonists and supporting cast-members, as possible. What? Women in Sword and Sorcery that serve some role other than modelling chainmail bikinis and wrapping dragon tails around their hips in suggestive poses?
The opening story, "A River Through Darkness and Light," by John C. Hocking, was a great, if predictable story about the Archivist and his friend Lucella. I absolutely loved both characters, Lucella for her non-chalance and matronly patience with the Archivist, and the Archivist himself for his vulnerability and likeability.
I was also impressed by "The Lions of Karthagar," by Chris Willrich. The main characters in this tale, the Weatherworkers Blim the Damp and Miy Who Sing Storms, whose friendship develops against the background of an invasion of an incredibly rich country by their armies, each of which seeks to take possession of the golden land. Poetic and even touching, this story tugged at my emotions like most Sword and Sorcery does not.
My favorite piece of fiction in the volume was "The Shuttered Temple," by Jonathan L. Howard (author of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, among others). Kyth the Taker, a brilliant and rather glib thief, is the heroine here. This was a very clever story whose strongest point is less the adventure than the philosophical underpinnings that drive Kyth and Tonsett, her foil. Witty, funny, and thought provoking, I found this the best of this excellent volume.
I have to admit, though, that a piece of non-fiction overshadowed all the fiction in the volume. "Art Evolution," by Scott Taylor, is an epic article that touched a soft spot in my heart and made me wax nostalgic for role-playing days of old. This was as thoroughly-researched an article on the subject of fantasy-art in role-playing as I've ever seen. Of course, I'm hard pressed to think of other articles that have even endeavored such an undertaking. From Jeff Dee to Matthew D. Wilson, Taylor traces the history of art in role-playing. It's an incredible journey that is worth the price of the issue alone.
If you like your Sword and Sorcery in short, smart doses, look no further than Black Gate.
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