Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Black Gate #13, Spring 2009

Black Gate #13, Spring 2009
Black Gate
Black Gate publishes epic fantasy fiction at all lengths (including novel excerpts), articles, interviews, news and reviews.

They are looking for adventure-oriented fantasy fiction suitable for all ages -- including urban fantasy, sword & sorcery, dark fantasy/horror, "magic realism" and romantic fantasy -- as long as it is well written and original.

They buy first North American serial and electronic publication rights.

Black Gate

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

These days, with publishing houses and magazines folding right and left, it was such a relief to receive a nice fat issue of Black Gate -- and to discover that the policy of printing when an issue is ready, rather than forcing four issues a year, has paid off. The magazine seems to be established, and has plans to keep on publishing, in spite of the grim economy elsewhere. This is great news for fans of more traditional fantasy, especially Sword and Sorcery, which has very few venues these days.

One of the strengths of Black Gate is how issues exhibit thematic distinction. Issue 12 contained a number of sequels in ongoing series -- all series I like, and the installments made good reading -- but some readers wondered if the magazine was beginning to close in to a favored few authors. No danger. This issue does contain a true sequel (the closing of Mark Sumner's excellent series, The Naturalist), and two stories that take place in settings familiar from other stories, but which are not true sequels. The rest are all new stories, and many of these from new authors. The tone varies from traditional S&S to gonzo fantasy, with a sidestep into horror.

One of the subthemes here is love, including the love or bond of family, and in an intersecting circle, the bonds and expectations of community, kinship group, culture. One of the reasons why Black Gate's stories draw me in is because they are not mere pastiches of the Golden Age of S&S, which, though full of rare fumes and exotic locales, also tended to feature stock characters. The heroes were pretty much always two-fisted white males, the villains simplistic and unfortunately too often racial stereotypes. Nowadays writers male and female are offering strong female protagonists, and heroic figures of every type of background. This blend of contemporary awarenesses with the best aspects of the old tales is one of the hallmarks of Black Gate, and this issue serves as an excellent example.

"The Beautiful Corridor" by Jonathan L. Howard
Kyth the Taker maintains she is not a thief, but she has to break into a temple filled with deadly traps, and she has only a certain amount of time. She takes it easy at first, sussing out the architect. I was hooked in right away by the style: "Now this man (and she knew it had to be a man who'd created this place because -- Nasutiro help us -- it was so bombastic) this man was the sort who would use a trebuchet to kill a cockroach."

Howard's tale is a high-wire act strung between tension and wit as Kyth races inside the temple to find the dead god on his throne. When the corpse addresses her by name, things really get interesting. This is a great kickoff story, not only because it's good, but it also sets the tone for the rest of the issue.

"The Good Sheriff" by David Wesley Hill
Though this story stands on its own, we've met Charles Duke in issue 4. He wants to get back to Texas, from which he was yanked in 1879 -- but the gold he's amassed is worthless for hiring sorcerers. Sorcerers don't deal in gold, they deal in "grains of good," for enough of these will transform a man into a deity. So Duke's got to earn "good." He takes a job as sheriff in order to earn enough good to pay off a sorcerer who can shift him back home. Naturally, nothing is as easy as it seems: would you really trust a wizard called Rascale?

Tough, laconic Charles Duke the gunslinger in a mad, magical land is such an enjoyable hero that I can't help wishing he might never get home, so that there will be more stories about him. Hill writes with wit and vivid imagination in this excellent second tale.

"The Face in the Sea" by John C Hocking
Hocking's story begins like a fragment from the middle of a Norse saga. We are at sea with the narrator Brand, taking ship after having rescued Asdia, daughter of Thorgeir Broadshield. Hocking hints at sparks between Brand and Asdir with the same economy one finds in the sagas as the action swiftly rises to disaster in the form of Einar's dragon-ship chasing by magical means, aided by the evil Skorri.

This is a smashing action tale with strong evocation of northern myth.

"Naktong Flow" by Myke Cole
Along the Naktong River, the Waegu do evil things, laying waste to the shore. Ch'oe sails a pair of boats carved in the likeness of golden phoenixes, armed with fifteen chrysanthemum knights each, with a magician called a yangban. His boats are dragging a strange machine with spider arms, and the yangban's ancestor magic is making this machine work, in order to fight the Waegu. The intent seems to be to cause the river to reverse its flow. Murky darkness, ugly visions, and creepy magic lurk along this strange tale that is full of imaginative atmosphere as well as darkness.

"The Murder at Doty Station" by Matthew Bey
A couple of tough witches, Easy and Gonzo, stop their steamwagon at Doty Station to take on fuel, but when Gillian the ogre goes out to fill them up, he is trampled and killed by a giant clockwork manikin. Only Easy sees what happened; the rest of the station's inhabitants, who hate witches (and Elves), blame Easy, and want to hang her for it. But she figures the turtle behind the station counter knows more than he's saying.

This isn't traditional S&S, nor is it Steampunk fantasy, despite the steamwagon. It's a crazy fantasy that mixes light and dark as much as it mixes species of being. It is short and cleverly written.

"The Evil Eater" by Peadar Ó Guilín
Toby, a hotel night clerk, is told by a guest to cancel a reservation for the most exclusive restaurant in the world -- Ahriman. Obviously he doesn't know his mythology. He decides to use the reservation instead, to impress his bitchy girlfriend Marie; of course he can't afford the staggering cost, but he'll just cheat on the bill. The first sign of trouble is the menu, which only offers one item: Erta. The second problem is when he sees Erta, which is a nasty brown mass in an earthenware bowl.

Then he tries a taste, but the results make up for its appearance... and that's when things get really strange.

This is the darkest story in the issue; the inside of Ahriman is... well, Ahriman. A gripping story with the old-style cautionary flavor, which lingers in memory.

"Bones in the Desert, Stones in the Sea" by Amy Tibbetts
Aleem once was close to his sister Yenna, but drifted away from her when she grew up and married. Aleem went off to become a scholar, missing his sister but content not to see Yenna until he receives an urgent summons from her. When he arrives in her village, it's to a shocking discovery: she's dead. Why she died, and the result, forms the rest of this quiet, compelling story. The trappings are fantasy, but the relationships -- the wariness of kinship groups divided by custom and by the results of bitter circumstance -- resonate with truth. Aleem tries to steer the right course, despite everyone around him having their own notion of what ought to be done.

"The Merchant of Loss" by Justin Stanchfield and Mikal Trimm
The essence of sword and sorcery is mighty battles against hopeless odds for causes beyond the ken of humankind -- and sorcery of same. This well-rendered tale of a dying goddess bent on punishing the offspring who betrayed her, and the mysterious merchant named Rook who seeks to make a living from bottling the last drop of her essence, along with the emotion-wrought essences of lesser beings, fulfills the promise of good S&S. This story is longer than most, tense and increasingly absorbing. One of my favorites of the issue.

"Return of the Quill" by John R Fultz
Most of the above stories stand on their own, though the gunslinger Charles Duke in David Wesley Hill's tale has been seen before in Black Gate. Like Charles Duke in Hill's tale, Fultz's Narr has been referenced in an earlier issue, but again like Hill's tale, it's not a sequel -- does not depend on the earlier issue to be understood.

Narr, once a golden city, has fallen into rot under the harsh rule of the Sorcerer Kings. Zombies (animated corpses) patrol the streets under the control of the Eighth Sorcerer King, necromancer Grimsort, in whom some will recognize the typical geek with few social graces, resulting in his ending up geeking out on computers, or games... or necromancy.

But even geeks fall in love. Grimsort longs for the touch of the ethereal Santha. Drawn on by the elusive Santha, Grimsort meets Artemis the Quill, an exile previously condemned to death, who has returned to Narr with his company of players who intend to put on a public performance, aided by some sort of magic. Grimsort and the other sorcerers have to destroy him, leading to a powerful tale filled with imaginative and satisfying S&S goodness; meanwhile, Fultz never loses sight of the fact that even necromantic geeks have feelings. This was my favorite story of the issue.

"Spider Friend" by L. Blunt Jackson
This tight little story is about love . . . and the dubious results of blessings of the gods. Beginning with the Spider Queen's blessing on handsome young Ch-bib, who was a friend to spiders. But his beloved would rather not mate up with a fellow blessed by the Spider Queen. What is he to do? Lots of arachnid action ahead!

"Silk and Glass" by Sharon E. Woods
Jas is a shapechanger-succubus sent to Dule, a city famed for its glassblowers who guard the secret of their fantastic glass. Jas is sent by the rival city of Saria to seduce the master glassblower Yullo and deliver him to Saria. But Jas loves Yullo, and the more success she has, the more she regrets the false promises she gives him, and the prospect of betrayal. The tension between the characters' and reader's expectations tightens the tension in this plangent, absorbing tale.

The issue ends powerfully with Mark Sumner's "The Naturalist, Part III : St. George and the Antriders."

I believe a reader could catch up fairly rapidly, but to get the full impact, one really ought to read the earlier installments in Issues 10 and 11. This is a novel -- complex, beautifully written in the idiom and cadence of the 1830s, but the horrifying battle against the alien antriders is so terrifying there is no danger of the reader finding the pace slow. Mr. Brown, a naturalist, is the narrator; the story is told in his journal as he follows Captain Valamont and his soldiers around, trying to investigate -- and then escape -- the invading antriders. Sumner brings the story to an elegiac close.. with an exquisite twist. This is a bravura story, well worth appearing in book form. The issue rounds off with numerous thoughtful reviews, and the insouciant "Knights of the Dinner Table," one of my favorite features of Black Gate.

Copyright © 2009 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide