Monday, April 07, 2008

"Mountain Scarab" by Jeff Stewart from Return of the Sword

This is an excellent tale with the feel of the old Conan stories. It starts off in the midst of a caravan raid:
The first guard died with an arrow in his throat.

Bam! That got my attention.

We soon meet the northern sailor Sigurd, who is embroiled with a group of raiders. When a young woman is captured during the raid, he finds himself torn between his personal honor and the need to keep his skin. The plot moves along effortlessly. Each step makes sense, without giving itself away. The two leads, Sigurd and the girl Simone are fully realized, as well as a couple of supporting characters. The setting is concise and vivid. I could see the yellow firelight on the faces of the encamped raiders as they watch events unfold.

Unfortunately the beginning is a little uneven. My major gripe, really, is that the author uses the word "wiry" to describe the Peshmerga raiders at least three times. A little thing, but it cooled my initial excitement at the story's dramatic opening. When the hero first enters, I would almost prefer a more removed description. The word Valkyrion is cool, but it sounds pretty austentatious when the character is introduced, larger than life. When what we get is a believable, down on his luck viking/barbarian who relies on his wits as much as his axe.

But the story gripped my attention and I was eager to find out what would happen to Sigurd and Simone.

On the craft side of things, this story is told in third person omnitient. I was a bit jarred at first when the point of view would move between characters, but it worked. I found myself thinking that my only real problem with it is that so many people tell you not to write that way. It was good enough for Frank Herbert, though. Ultimately, I enjoyed being able to see the story from the different perspectives. I'd be very interested to read what others think of the story and its mode.



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