I like a ripping yarn. In fact, I love a ripping yarn. This is what Heroic Fantasy Quarterly aims to provide. HFQ is, like Black Gate, dedicated to the old-fashioned sword-and-sorcery, epic, Conanesque-but-not-a-pastiche, fantasy. There aren’t many magazines that offer this kind of fantasy. I love fantasy in the real world as much as the next girl, but it doesn’t offer the same sense of wonder that those books gave me when I was a preteen and teen.
S&S has fallen out of favor and actually it’s for good reason — not because it’s silly or cliched but because it’s really hard to do well. We’ve gotten out of practice at both writing and reading these kinds of stories, especially in the short story realm, but we still do know a good one when it comes along.
I’m glad that HFQ is dedicated to the genre. We can’t just leave it up to Michael Moorcock, G.R.R. Martin, and Fritz Leiber reprints. We need newcomers to take up the gauntlet.
Here are my observations on the stories and poems in Issue 13.
A Game of Chess, by Dave Pillig. In this Arthurian tale, Sir Kay has to pull Sir Gawain’s fat from the fire when the rowdy knight gets in over his head. It has a pleasant, modern tone while telling a story that is wholly believable as a knight’s gest. The Fae are wicked and dangerous, exactly as the Good Folk should be. How Sir Kay fares in the chess game of the title I’ll leave you to discover for yourself, but the story conceals a crucial bit of information which, while not causing it to fall flat, made me wish that I didn’t have to wonder if I missed something.
Renegade, by Alex Marshall. A nihilistic dark fantasy, Renegade follows the story of Dyer, a mysterious stranger who approaches a blind priestess for help in finding a relic that will allow him to be forgiven for his misdeeds. This story didn’t work for me — it had the trappings of sword and sorcery but none of the heart. However it wins for some over-the-top description: “Dyer’s lips writhed back from his teeth and one eye twitched as he glowered about him.” If you love this, Renegade is your story. I kind of admire it, actually.
Dance Upon Sand, by Seamus Bayne. This is a sequel to Bayne’s Crown of Sorrows, in the previous issue. Ordwin has been made a beast-man by an evil king and seeks revenge. This carried me right along with good, solid storytelling with a setting that was reminiscent of Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories (frankly, these are the standard by which I measure all sword-and-sorcery). It felt right, although I did not like the ending. Authors, man. Sometimes I just don’t know what to do with them.
“Advice on the Slaying of Wurms,” by Michelle Muenzler, stayed with me long after I read it.
“Advent of an Apocalypse” by Bethany Powell had a lyrical beauty.
HFQ is free to read and the back issues are up. Check it out — there’s good stuff there, including some gorgeous artwork in the banner across the top by Jonas Jakobsson.