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Flashes of lightning

By theredsheep, author of Pyrebound

Mar 30, 2019: Imagine watching a battle at night during a thunderstorm. Everything appears in bursts: heaps of hacked bodies, their blood trickling into the puddled water on the ground. Blue flashes reflecting off shining swords. Screams of men and horses mixing with the howl of wind and the clap of thunder. It’s all very vivid, very intense. But you’d be hard-pressed to tell anyone what exactly was happening, which side was winning, or what it was for.

I picked up this story because it had a vivid blurb, written more or less exactly the way they tell you blurbs are supposed to be written. I clicked through to a professional-looking site, with a nice map and pictures and even an official teaser trailer. I read a story, written in perfectly manageable chunks, with good grammar and spelling. The writing was evocative, rich with emotion, pithy in its description of scenes and moments. Snow, mead, woodsmoke, steel, fog and clouds—it’s all gorgeously bleak and tragic and Nordic.

I’m just not at all sure what’s going on, because it’s all flashes of lightning. You see moments—nicely written moments!—interspersed with dollops of backstory, but not much straightforward description of the plot. It’s all alluded to en passant, never told. You have to infer what’s going on from the wry curses and fears characters express as asides, or else guess based on tropes. The runaway magic girl is apparently the protagonist, since she’s written with sympathetic traits. There’s a stern warlord after her, who’s bad because stern warlord.

Halfway through its current run of seventeen short chapters, I pieced together a bit more than that, but it’s so staccato that I didn’t have much invested in it. There’s no time to stop and breathe, to find out the big picture or what’s at stake. There used to be an unpopular queen, but I’m not at all clear what she was queen of, or why they don’t like her now. There’s people fighting, but I don’t know what they’re fighting for. Everyone feels doomed and hopeless, like the world is ending, and I don’t know why.

Just for example: in the second chapter, a lone headless body rides into a stableyard and falls off its horse, scaring the hell out of the local help . . . and that’s it. That’s the entire chapter, start to finish. She just describes it more artfully. There is no further context given as to why this corpse is significant, and it doesn’t come up later. I didn’t even feel the need to say spoilers, because what are you supposed to do with this information?

Three stars is "worth a look." It’s certainly that. But mind the rain.

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