Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Fatefist at Torkas Nahl" by David Pitchford from RotS

A large cast of characters and an epic storyline give this tale grandeur and depth. The world seems so much wider than the city and battleground of the immediate setting. Fans of Steven Erikson will surely enjoy this piece, though it may leave them itching for more. I make that comparison because of the way Pitchford just dunks the reader into the world with its exotic names, as well as the detail he devotes to the varieties of military units within the competing armies.

There is a bit of a curveball, in the tradition of some Conan stories, in that the title character makes his appearance after the story is underway. Arnoux Trav, the Fatefist from the title is an interesting character. Bound by a vow of silence in his first scene, he seems to be undergoing a kind of spiritual and social transformation, from a monk-scholar of war and wisdom, to an outright warrior. Indeed, we first see him shrouded in a robe while later he is outfitted in custom armor. It seems a bit odd at first that an "un-blooded" soldier could be so proficient, but Pitchford serves the battles to us as intellectual puzzles for Trav to solve, and it works. Very interesting to read about a hero whose wits and wisdom are more important than brawn. There are some truly funny moments as the wise monks advise an impetuous young prince more eager for glory than assuring victory.

Again, we are treated to a magic blade in this story, though this time it is in the hands of the piece's biggest villain. This makes for a great battle at the end, but if there is one thing I would have liked to see, its a more vivid introduction to Rajan Vace and the sword Angra Mainyu. There is a report of his body count from the first day, but it is almost too high to be believed. "Fatefist at Torkas Nahl" is one of those short stories that is completely satisfying as a short, but is rife with implications and possibilities for a longer work. There are a few places where the dialog is a bit too cryptic, and even after a re-read I wondered exactly why some things happened, but that kind of fits with the "wiser-than-mere-mortals" mystique of the Mikari.

As a writer, I think this story excels at providing a sense of a much wider world through the exotic names and the writer's fearlessness with diving into the thick of things with people and places that demand we step into that world. The emphasis on combat as a struggle of body AND mind, also makes it stand out. I know of Mr. Pitchford as part of the Pitch-Black team. Now I know to keep an eye out for his writing, as well.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
David Pitchford
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