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08 October 2012

Black Gate's Opening Salvo a Swashbuckling Romp with Heart

Jason E. Thummel’s “The Duelist” appeared at Black Gate recently, their first online fiction offering, which signals an exciting  new phase in this fine publication’s life cycle.

A rollicking, swashbuckling adventure set amongst the aristocratic intrigues of a city where the distinction between the wealthy Uphill aristocrats and the poor folk who live below in Plague Bottom is everything, “The Duelist” is reminiscent of  Ellen Kushner’s “mannerpunk” novels Swordspoint, The Privledge of the Sword, and The Fall of Kings.

Thummel’s protagonist, Androi Karpelov, is an aging duelist – a profession centered around a ritualized trial by ordeal for the settling of grievances between aristocrats. Androi is one of the best, but he is also jaded and tired of being reminded of his place in this deeply flawed society.

When he gets tangled up in the intrigues of the deplorable Baron Wyck, Androi’s life takes a turn for the complicated. Androi’s personal code of honor drives him into peril both Uphill and down, and the question becomes how to adhere to his sense of honor without losing his life in the process.

I have to admit to being a bit put off by the somewhat stilted, highly formal dialogue between the characters, including many of the denizens of Plague Bottom. I have grown rather accustomed to (spoiled by, perhaps) the  use of quite modern language in a lot of recent secondary-world fantasies, and it took a bit of adjustment to get used to Thummel’s style. All in all, though, this is an exciting story, filled with well-choreographed sword fights that would not be out of place in The Princess Bride. Well-executed and clever, “The Duelist” promises good things to come from both Jason E. Thummel and Black Gate’s online fiction offerings. En Garde!

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