Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"To Destroy All Flesh" by Michael Ehart from Return of the Sword

This story has a lot of humanity in it. That's the best word for it. From the agonizing deaths to the moral question at its core, this story looks at the human costs of the magic, mayhem and pure human malice that make up heroic fiction. The hero, Ninshi, is Ehart's titular hero from the novel Servant of the Manthycore. In this tale, a group of mountain bandits stand between her and the herb she must have to free herself from the Manthycore's arcane shackles.

As complicated as that would suggest, Ehart handles it all skillfully. His choice for the point-of-view character works perfectly. We get the back story with just enough detail to set the stage, without burdening us with boring memories. And instead of two dimensional bandits, we get real human beings with circumstances that make this more than just a hack-em-up tale. I love those, but when a story delivers with theme, a textured world, and characters that seem alive, well that's a kick-ass story. This is one of them.

Ehart goes for the throat with a gripping, desperate fight right at the opening. From the stark clarity of that scene, the situation gets murkier and more complex, in all the right ways. I recently read Ken Follet's masterpiece Pillars of the Earth and though "To Destroy All Flesh" is orders of magnitude shorter, it manages to hit on some of the same historical and emotional revelations I felt during that novel.

The previous Servant story, "Stand, Stand, Shall they Cry" was good, but did not move me the way this one did. From his posts on the SFReader forum, I get the impression Ehart takes historical research very seriously. That's a strong selling point for me. Now that I have seen more of the sense of humanity in this character, I'm sold. I've ordered his novel Servant of the Manthycore.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
Michael Ehart's blog
EE Knight's Announcement
A Review

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