Review: Champions of Aetaltis

Posted: May 13, 2016 by in Books that are Mediocre (3/5 single_star) Meta: John Helfers (ed), Marc Tassin (ed), Fantasy, Anthology

Whilst in the midst of reading this anthology I was reminded of a concept that is occasionally important for me to revisit. That is the idea that my opinion is not everybody’s opinion, AND (a twofer for the masses…) there can frequently be a wide range of goodness separating multiple stories written by a single author. Thus, as a reviewer, it’s my job to give an honest review of what is given to me, and, quite honestly, to enjoy what is given to me as a reader, plain and simple. For it is when I forget that I am a reader that I lose the view of who these stories were meant for. Maybe a little deep for an everyday book review intro. I seem to be on a kick lately though. So, if you must, TLDR; this bit and jump straight into the good stuff.

CHAMPIONS OF AETALTIS (Amazon) is a collection of short fiction inspired by a Dungeons & Dragons campaign created by author Marc Tassin and published by Mechanical Muse. It was initially launched via Kickstarter and raised a not-insubstantial sum to see its release last month. Mechanical Muse contacted us to see if we’d be interested in reviewing it, and after scanning over the author list (literary award winners, established fantasy authors, NYT best-sellers) and the focus of the anthology, I jumped in.

So what was the focus of the anthology? The world needs heroes. Pretty great idea, yeah? I mean, it’s serious truth. Regardless of how much I love the whole grimdark thing and the cynical, pessimistic humor that comes along with it, there is a part of me that crows to see a hero, a champion, someone to look up to and get one of those inner highs that come along with those kind of stories.

The stories in this anthology have quite a range of topics and ideas in them. From pure adventure to treasure seekers, and small-town politicking to building a judicial case. Spread throughout these stories were aspects and ideals of heroism and sacrifice that played to the overarching theme of the anthology. There were, however, very few stories that I could definitively say was a story “about a hero” or about “characters doing something heroic,” but perhaps that plays down to my ideals concerning the motivations of heroes. Still, there were times and places for the heroism of these stories to shine through, and they were peppered throughout the stories enough to satisfy me.

Some of my favorites of the bunch:

“Mother of Catastrophes” by Erin M. Evans: A mage and a mercenary get hired by someone to hook up with an orog (kind of like a friendly orc) to find a mediocre, annoying, but wealthy wizard prince that is missing in a nasty dark forest. A little rough in patches, but the ending had one of those heroic button-pushing moments that saved the day.

“Books Are No Good” by Cat Rambo: A woman’s inn burns down, so she leaves with a friend from the inn on an adventure. Eventually, she finds herself in the court of an elf lord at the wrong end of his wrath. I enjoyed the writing in this one quite a bit.

“Never A Moon So Bright” by Elaine Cunningham: A store owner is selling magical evil artifacts to a wizard that is responsible for de-magicking them. When a new customer comes into the store with a familiar item and promptly drops dead, it sparks off a trip to kill an evil wizard. This story felt completely different from any of the others. Really liked the voice of the main character.

A range of topics and ideas, from pure adventure to treasure seekers, and small-town politicking to building a judicial case. Lots of short story variety.

And then my absolute favorite, which stood head and shoulders above the rest of the bunch:

“The Bridge” by Larry Correia: A drothmal (orc-like muscley human variant) is guarding a bridge, and will leave for nothing. He’s been abandoned by all the other guards and continues in his duty despite being alone. A swordsman comes to cross the bridge. The drothmal will not let him pass. They learn much from each other and come to a conclusion that is absolutely perfect for this anthology. Funny, touching, and solid.

On the whole, the writing level varied mostly around a mediocre level. Some of it got a little worse; some a little better. The one obvious exception was Coreia’s story. Especially given the simple-minded nature of his main POV character, it was just really well done.

In the end, it might be that I’ve rated this anthology a little lower than it deserves, but if it is so, it’s because I got a little distracted by the fact that this is a Dungeons & Dragons themed anthology, and what kind of stories would one expect to find in a D&D-themed anthology? Well, heroic fantasy, I would say. Which means that on the whole it didn’t really stand out all that much. But even though I’ve given it a mediocre rating, it’s quite possible that these stories, presented in other anthologies/collections might have garnered a slightly higher rating, due to the fact that I wouldn’t have been looking so intensely for stories that really pushed my “hero button”. Still, it was about what I’d expected in the way of story telling, so I have to stand by the rating, but if this is your cuppa tea, it’s likely you’ll enjoy this one slightly more than I.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Mild, infrequent
  • Violence: A wide range of mostly weapon-based violence
  • Sex: Mild innuendo

And don’t miss the giveaway for this book.

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