Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Stillborne, by Marc Laidlaw

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(Fantasy Adventure; Gorlen Stories) To find the magician who cursed them, Gorlen and Spar journey to the swarming of the Philosopher Moths, giant, telepathic insects reputed to cure even extreme ailments. (18,798 words; Time: 1h:02m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Spectacular and Surprising

Although this is part of a series, it stands alone perfectly.

"Stillborne," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 11-12|17, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: They go seeking the magician, but without success. However, they do find Plenth again, learn she has a child, and travel off together happier than before.

The story of the moths is truly sad. On the one hand, their magic can even heal missing limbs, so they’re a godsend to desperate people. But the price is converting the larvae into an intoxicating drink, and the locals have been so thorough that they’ve driven the moths almost to extinction. By revealing the truth to the surviving moths, Spar allows them to take their vengeance and use their power to replenish their numbers by resurrecting the pickled larvae in the bottles of shu’ulk.

Con: The desperate people hoping for healing hardly deserve what the moths do to them.

Nominally this is Gorlen's story, but in practice he's not the main agent; Spar has much more agency than Gorlen does. Since we really can't identify with Spar, that weakens the story a bit.

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4 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I enjoyed this, and I agree with your assessment: the strongest element here is the poignancy of the pilgrims' desperate rush, stamping out the very thing they need and want.

    I've read a fair number of Laidlaw's Gorlen stories over the years, and I'm wondering how badly I'm misremembering them -- because I remember very specifically that Gorlen didn't know why or how he'd been cursed with his stone hand, and that when he first met Spar, it was presented as their first meeting.

    If I'm remembering correctly (it's been a while!), this might actually work better as a standalone than it does as part of a series! :P

    I think I've always felt that Gorlen and his stone hand are kind of the weakest part of this swashbuckling series. It's a memorable trait, but it's kind of superfluous to the individual adventure, nor do I feel like there's meaningful progression across stories. Specifically as a capstone to a series, going back to a flashback sequence and saying "oh yes, by the way this guy's very first adventure was saving the world, and the details aren't particularly important," just seems kind of off-kilter to me. (As a standalone, though, this sequence does a really nice job of filling in the relationships between the characters, and also providing the occasional break from the current action! And, does so without stealing the thunder from the primary events.)

  2. Grin. It's certainly a first that a story works better if you didn't read the earlier works in the series!

  3. Yes, it certainly works on its own since it's origin and "happily ever after" in one. Although I'm intrigued enough to read more of the stories at some point.