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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Short Works from a Master
In Stephen R. Donaldson's second collection of short fiction, the bestselling author of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series presents eight superb stories, including five reprints from major anthologies and three new novellas. In the 15 years since his previous collection, Daughter of Regals and Other Tales, fans of the author have eagerly awaited his return to the short form.
In Reave the Just and Other Tales, readers will discover medieval magic fused with Arabian fables and fantasy, where an elaborate style and lavish language gleam like jewels and well-polished armor. This wonderfully lyrical but earthy compilation embodies Donaldson at his finest, with a variety of haunting, beautiful narrative voices that will entice and intoxicate.
The standout pieces include the title tale, "Reave the Just," which concerns a young man, Jillet, who seeks to court a wealthy widowed noblewoman, though she has already been enslaved by the brutal and powerful Kelven. Jillet is easily duped by an alchemist selling love potions, who instructs Jillet to speak often of the legendary personage known as Reave the Just and name him kinsman. The alchemist hopes this will reinforce Jillet's confidence as well as start a rumor that will keep other suitors at bay. When the plan backfires, Jillet is taken prisoner and tortured by Kelven, until the mythic Reave comes to town to find his kinsman.
Reave is a cryptic character more determined to teach lessons of personal accountability than to actually take an active role in matters. Even whenattacked,he does not fight back, and if his chargers don't learn their lessons, Reave will become as entrapped as they are. The story brims with a sort of parable's wisdom that lends itself to the playful but allegorical atmosphere Donaldson fashions.
Using an Inquisition-like time as the setting and backdrop, Donaldson capably presents in "Penance" a horrifying yet endearing novella dealing with the life of a vampire caught up in a war between church and state. Scriven, who can also use his vampiric powers to heal, is summoned before his lordship Duke Obal, who is in the midst of a conflict with the High Cardinal Straylish. Now that Scriven, a "blood beast" and "carrion eater," has been found out, the tide of the religious war might turn to the Torquemada-like Straylish. Unless Scriven tells his entire tale and is accepted into the devout but prejudiced court, both he and Duke Obal will be killed. Scriven's personal story of loneliness, heartache, and longing for love in a land where he can find sustenance only in death is highly engaging and effective.
Perhaps the strongest piece in the book is "The Killing Stroke," a masterfully presented union of martial arts action, philosophical doctrine, and wizardry that considers the complex issues dividing good and evil. Two warrior-assassins from different martial arts doctrines are, for reasons unknown, imprisoned in a cave with no passages or doors. All they know is that they've died in battle many times over and yet have repeatedly been returned to life. Together they watch as another warrior from a different house of the Five Fatal Arts is brought to life time and again, though he has no memory of who he is. Eventually it becomes apparent that a war between the dark and light wizards is raging, and the dark lord is in need of a champion. The third warrior, the most powerful of the three, is from a house that does not believe in "the killing stroke," a house whose creed is that there is no such thing as murder, since all are in charge of their own fates. The slowly unfolding mystery and captivating tension Donaldson manages to create here, even while infusing the piece with a profound sense of responsibility and self-actualization, is nothing short of amazing.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural novel Pentacle, as well as the dark suspense mysteries Shards and The Dead Past. His short fiction has appeared in many anthologies, including The Conspiracy Files and Hot Blood: Fear the Fever.