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.
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!