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Black Gate #8, Summer 2005

Black Gate #8, Summer 2005
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

Black Gate looks for the best in fantasy adventure, delivering surprises in some stories, and familiar structures in others -- stories that entertain the reader along the way so that one can look forward to where it's going. Some issues range from comedy to horror, the settings from contemporary Earth to its history to strange magical worlds that never were. This issue happens to center mostly around magic worlds -- though the stories themselves show the breadth possible within this particular subgenre. As always, the layout of the magazine is excellent -- the stories continue until finished, there are no ads, and the non-fiction is of interest to the fantasy reader. (And I would be just as delighted by the Knights of the Dinner Table's Java Joint comic at the back even if I hadn't been surprised by the brief appearance of my own name. Hey! My five seconds of fame!)

I was very glad to see Iain Rowan return with Dao-Shi, the one-time fake banisher of ghosts, in "The Turning of the Tiles." Dao-Shi is given an invitation he cannot refuse to a private interview with one of the Emperor of the Endless Water's higher officials. Fei-Shen tells Dao-Shen that there is a horrible demon called the Serevoi that Dao-Shen is supposed to defeat and imprison. By himself. In secret. And oh, if he fails, he's toast -- but if he succeeds... Dao-Shi realizes he's probably toast no matter what he does, so he retires to eat, think, and watch a couple of old men engage in a game of moon tiles. Then it is time to act.

So he researches, seeks amulets, is accosted by someone who seems to be a helper. But. The story gets more complicated, every detail tucking and tying back into the story-line, told in a stylish, wry voice. No hints about what happens except that invisible wall framing the short story vanishes with a couple of breath-taking lines, revealing the possibilities of a very complicated, wise, funny, scary, and wonderful novel. Wow, I hope it's true.

It would be tough to follow a story that good, but James Enge manages with his "Turn Up This Crooked Way." Morlock Ambrosius is a sorcerer who takes a rest -- and is robbed of an important book by someone arrogant enough to leave a pointer indicating the direction of their escape: into the danger-fraught winterwood. This is a quest tale set in a magical world, but you have never seen magic that worked quite like this, or a protagonist quite like Morlock. Fine writing, veined with humor, makes the tale difficult to put down.

Sherry Decker's "Heat Waves" takes place in the here-and-now. Young Rachel hears voices, shadowy voices, begging her to come and dance. She's leaving church with her parents; she needs to use the restroom, but wants to wait. As we wait with her, we get vivid glimpses of the church people through her eyes. She is very observant yet curiously detached from the world. Her father sometimes think-talks with her, but it doesn't always work. Mostly Rachel hears those voices, whispering "all at once, speaking at the same time and yet slightly apart so that their words had a wavy, echo sound."

As they proceed on their way she hears the cruel thoughts of a man running into the nearby grocery store to buy something. Then she sees a schoolmate playing in the street -- the same street the mean man will soon be zooming his truck down, and all around her the voices are dancing like heat waves and giggling, beckoning. The story is short, deceptively simple, and so well-written we fit inside Rachel's child-mind, struggling to deal with the real world and the voices weaving in and out of the real world. Decker gives us no pat answers or resolutions -- leaving the reader with that sharp snap of wonder.

Paul Finch takes us back to the time of thegns, housecarls, and King Athelstan, when the enemy is sweeping across Mercia -- the enemy being Olaf Guthfrithsson, King of the Norse-Irish. Through various sorts of treachery he vastly outnumbers the forces of the king, and is bent on overrunning the land.

Eadric is twelve years old, hearing the worried adults talking about thousands of men converging to fight. His sister, Eadith, comes to get him so they can attend the feast inside the hall of their father Earl Ethelwulf, who is a good Christian -- but has not laid aside the old pagan ways. The singing and story-telling in the hall includes the gruesome things the enemy does to captured men, which upsets the children. They are very worried that their father will not come back from the impending battle.

Bits of real epic poetry and archive are interspersed as the story unfolds: the children hearing about the battle, beacons being set relaying news of a miraculous victory, but without Ethelwulf's return. So they set out to find him, following the horrendous swath left by battle, as mythic figures haunt their journey. Finch does not finesse the ugliness of battle in those days, yet makes his characters real, and more, the sense of glory and heroism that inspired them.

"Winter's Touch," by Justin Stanchfield, brings us to another magical world, its protagonists a small family subsisting on the edge of a troubled kingdom. Narda Elsedatter and her sister Onya are walking through the forest. Narda had inherited her dead mother's gift for magic, particularly winter magic. Their father, Pietr Longthrow, works hard to eke a living out of their bit of land, and worries about the girls. Especially the magic, which he feels killed their mother. Yet when the girls find a young man wounded, their father assents to his being brought home, even though he suspects there will just be trouble. The characters are well very drawn, including the old dog Grendl who trots at Pietr's side. The young man, who has forgotten who he was, does not appear to be trouble -- he pitches in to help around the farm -- but when Pietr is attacked, he uses a sword with the effectiveness of someone who has long been drilled. The resolution is bittersweet, leaving the reader not only caring about the characters, but wondering what happens to them afterward.

Next up is Aaron Bradford Starr's "Mortal Star." This again is a fantasy world, one complex and fascinating in design. Anakira is leading her migratory people into battle against the groundlings -- she has to save the life of her grandson Morgan from a flying mindling -- and in doing so, loses her life. She is sort of alive; she hears her star calling to her, naming a kingdom she has never seen. She and a daughter have both been mortally wounded, but they cannot actually die yet, not until they get their people to safety. Starr gives us a fascinating world and characters strong and real enough not to be overwhelmed by the detail and action. A very fine story that is impossible to predict.

When the writer is Jay Lake and the first line reads "Fat Jack and the Spider Clown went to see the burning of the King," you can settle back, knowing the story is going to be weird, well-written, and memorable. I love the way Lake sometimes begins with a setting that makes no sense. This world seems to be made of pipes, full of nightmare beings and talk that bends in all directions from logic. But one by one the clues start appearing...

Closing the issue's fiction is Charles Coleman Finlay's "The Nursemaid's Suitor." Lord Gruethrist's castle has been under siege by the Baron Culufre, who is favored by the Empress. From the doomed castle escape three people: the knight Yvon, the red-haired nurse-maid Xaragitte, and the most important one -- the reason for the siege -- the baby Claye. Yvon and Xaragitte are not friends, just allies in this desperate attempt to get the baby safely to his grandmother. As the three embark on their journey they encounter dangers large and small -- from attacks to the small but urgent needs of a babe. With superlative skill Finlay sketches in the political situation driving this journey, and develops the characters. Yvon and Xaragitte don't particularly like one another, but they share one goal: the babe's safety. How they deal with the tensions between them as well as those threatening from the outside forms the shape of this tale, which is actually a segment of Finlay's delightful novel, The Prodigal Troll. The excerpt stands on its own -- and it is interesting to see how it subtly alters in meaning when read separately from the novel, underscoring the layered textures of Finlay's superlative story-telling skill.

Rich Horton's look at Ace Doubles, an interview with Charlaine Harris, and reviews of fantasy adventure novels form the rest of this, another satisfying issue.

Copyright © 2005 Sherwood Smith

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

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