REVIEW: “Rib of Man” by Geonn Cannon

Review of Geonn Cannon, “Rib of Man”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 90-101 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Henriette Talmadge captains the Rib of Man, a former slave trader ship that she captured and made her own. It’s a suitable name for a ship that is captained by a woman and whose crew contains many other women. On the one hand, the rib of man from which woman was created (according to one story, at least), is

curved and sharp, like a sword. A man’s rib is a weapon, crafted while he lay naked and exposed…The women standing before you are descendants of that brutal moment. We are weapons who have been taught we are weak, fragile, helpless. The weaker sex (p. 93)

But on the other hand,

ribs are also protection: a shield that is always with you, protecting your most vital organ, your heart (p. 100)

Henriette Talmadge captains her ship as both a weapon and a shield. While some pirates prefer to ransack for treasure, she’s happy to capture slave ships and free the slaves, for no profit of her own. But sometimes profit comes in unexpected quarters, as happens when the Rib of Man encounters the Rebecca and comes away with a new navigator. Genevalisse knows not only how to pilot the ship safely through treacherous waters, but she also know navigate the careful passageways into Henriette’s heart.

REVIEW: “Andromache’s War” by Elliott Dunstan

Review of Elliott Dunstan, “Andromache’s War”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 77-89 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Warning: Minor spoilers.

Oh, how I loved this story! The Trojan war is over. Hector is dead. Astyanax his heir is dead. The house of Priam is dead — at least, so says Neoptolemos. But that’s because he’s forgotten that the house of Priam is made up of more than just its men. He’s forgotten about Cassandra, and Hecuba, and, most importantly, Andromache herself, his slave and concubine, and now his murderer.

In shoving Neoptolemos off his ship, Andromache finds herself queen of a wholly new empire. She never planned for this, nor did she plan to raid Diomedes’ ship when it crosses her path. But the women of the house of Priam are nothing if not resourceful, and soon she is no longer Andromache the doomed princess, Andromache the slave concubine, but Andromache the Warlord, ruler of the seas.

There is so much history and myth packed into this story, plus plenty of pirating and a good dose of strong female leadership. What more could you want?

REVIEW: “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” by Megan Arkenberg

Review of Megan Arkenberg, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 65-76 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Shamrock (not “Miss Sham”, thank you very much!) rides the seas as part of Captain Cat’s crew, with the boys even if she’s not one of the boys, and has done so ever since she escaped from the clutches of the Queen of the Sea, Anny Pryce. But Anny isn’t about to forget that Sham was the one who killed her Dragonfly, and when Captain Cat and his crew undertake to escort a dead duke’s pregnant mistress to a place of safety, Anny Pryce allies with the duke’s nephew and heir to hunt down both Sham and Golden. Soon, Shamrock is in Anny Pryce’s clutches again…

This was a fun, rollicking story, filled with detailed and distinctive characters. Lots of fun.

REVIEW: “Serpent’s Tail” by Mharie West

Review of Mharie West, “Serpent’s Tale”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 52-64 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Looking for a story about polyamorous Viking pirates with strong familial bonds and a disabled MC? Look no further, have I got the story for you!!

I loved this story; from the description given above, you might thinking cynically to yourself “looks like someone was playing ‘diversity bingo'”, but you would be totally wrong to do so. Yes, the cast of characters is more diverse than in your usual pirate story, but each of the characters is so beautifully crafted, and their interactions with each other are so real. Each facet is integral to the story, and yet none of these aspects (except perhaps Thorgest and Makarios’s relationship being treated as illicit) is a “plot point”. Authors take note: This is how you do diversity well. If this story is representative of West’s other writing, then I’m definitely going to have to find more stories by her.

REVIEW: “The Doomed Amulet of Erum Vahl” by Ed Grabianowski

Review of Ed Grabianowski, “The Doomed Amulet of Erum Vahl”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 43-51 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Captain Jagga of the Hammer of Triel may have a brutal reputation, but it covers a soft heart — soft enough to rescue a beautiful, helpless, nubile young woman in distress when one is discovered on a deserted coast. Neri brings with her a fine black amulet — an amulet that the god Erum Vahl wants, and will stop at nothing to get. It isn’t long before Jagga is torn between her desire for Neri and her desire to keep Neri safe…

Unfortunately, this story didn’t really do it for me; I found the way that Jagga objectified Neri, viewing her primarily as a beautiful thing that she could sleep with, problematic, and Neri herself was flat and lacked agency. Towards the beginning of the story, she felt so much like a Mary Sue that I almost expected the story’s twist to be that she was the source of the evil and horror that plagued Jagga’s ship, not the god who was chasing her. But, alas, that was not the twist.

REVIEW: “Saints and Bodhisattvas” by Joyce Chng

Review of Joyce Chng, “Saints and Bodhisattvas”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 30-42 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Within the opening lines of the story, we learn that the titular saints and bodhisattvas meet at “the confluences of currents and trade routes [that] was the famed Golden Chersonese” (p. 30).

This type of story is one of my favorite types: Fantasy, yet firmly rooted in our reality. I’ll admit, I had never heard of the Golden Chersonese before, and assumed, at the outset, that Chng had made it up; only when the narrator speaks of encountering Sanskrit and Pali speakers did I wonder “what if this is real?” Off to wikipedia I went, to find out that “Golden Chersonese” is an ancient Roman name for the Malay peninsula. A few paragraphs later, distracted by the narrator’s father giving them a perahu, “rare for a girl, but I was never a girl, never a boy either” (p. 30), I was back in wikipedia reading about ships. Some people might find it distracting to constantly have to look up these things (and other people might just simply read past and not feel the need for the details!), but pausing to read up on things I’d not otherwise come across is almost as good as an informative footnote, and loyal readers of this site will know how much I love an informative footnote.

This isn’t to say the only reason to read the story is to spark wikipedia visits; even those who don’t look up every word they don’t recognise will find a story to engross and enrapture them. Highly recommended.

REVIEW: “The Seafarer” by Ashley Deng

Review of Ashley Deng, “The Seafarer”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 18-29 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Prior to launching SFFReviews, I actually rarely read short fiction, because most of the time it was either too short for me to become invested in the characters/setting, or it was long enough for that to happen, but then I’d want more, so it was still too short.

Deng’s story manages to fall into the perfect sweet spot: It gives me depth of character and world-building that makes me long for a novel-length story set in the world she has created, but is also self-contained enough to be satisfying.

Both Deng’s story and Drasio, the main character, slip effortlessly back and forth between what is real and what is familiar and what is unknown and what is fantastic. Drasio and his pirate crew sail the Mediterranean, plundering Dutch and Turkish ships; but his home sea is one not of this world. The Karreanan lies on the other side of the barrier.

If there is one thing about this story that I’d complain about, it’s the fact it was written in the present tense. This isn’t something that always bothers me, so I’m not sure what it was here, but I kept tripping up on it. Every few sentences I’d suddenly register a present-tense verb and realise that I’d tense-shifted all the other verbs unconsciously. I don’t object to an author picking the tense they most prefer for each particular story; I’m just sad that I found the tense so obtrusive in this case.