Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review of Sunset Mantle by Alter Reiss

Little Johnny, if we have A, B, and C, what comes next? “D!” Correct Johnny, good job. And what is two plus two? “Four!” And following upon daytime? “Nighttime!” Good, what a clever fellow. And what happens after a brawny hero is slighted by an evil lord? “He rips out the man’s guts in glorious revenge, and takes power for himself!” Good job, Johnny! You’re such a smart little guy…

It’s possible the reader can end their reading of my review of Alter Reiss' 2015 Sunset Mantle, here: the novella is as formulaic as epic fantasy/grimdark can possibly be. Even Johnny knows the score. And there is nothing else to compliment—no rich prose, no subversive elements, no lush setting, no plot twists, no... Told in rudimentary fashion, an idyllized man (brute strength, honor, intelligence, blah, blah, blah) takes revenge on those who tried to cheat him, and, of course, gets the woman and a seat of power. The end. Those interested in further commentary may continue.

As proven by Kai Ashante Wilson’s Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery has reached the point in its evolution that socio-political ideas are capable of being integrated into plot without losing any of the flavor that brings readers to the table to begin with. A reversion to puerile form, Sunset Mantle is base literature that would have us run a flag of determined primitivism up the pole, and fly it high. Undoubtedly humanity has proven it has difficulty casting aside its vices, but at the same time, there have been steps taken (in certain parts of the world) toward that nebulous ideal of civilization. Sunset Mantle would have us forget that, ignore it, look backwards toward a vengeful, narcissistic, my-sword-is-bigger-than-yours, might makes right worldview. While appealing at the entertainment level to a certain crowd (Me name Thug, me like Conan…), at the mature, literary level it shows itself lacking. Do read Wilson’s novella as proof of this statement, and if that doesn’t convince, try John Crowley’s The Deep, Brian Aldiss’ The Malacia Tapestry, Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, and Gene Wolfe’s The Wizard Knight, among others, as examples how heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery can be used with far greater integrity. And if you insist on reading mainstream heroic fantasy, writers like Brian Ruckley, R. Scott Bakker, George R.R. Martin, David Gemmell, et al are doing it with significantly more skill.

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