A Face of Black Iron – by Mathhew Hughes (Cdn) – Find it here
Premise: Two Wizards, a dragon, a groffet and a henchman named Erm Kaslo prepare to enter the seventh plane of the multiverse to confront “whatever survivor of the Nineteenth Aeon Wizard’s cabal” is waiting to destroy them.
The two wizards make their plans. Kaslo makes a suggestion which is not taken seriously. The dragon carries everyone in a conveyance to the floor of a vast crater where the two wizards manifest a whimsy into the seventh plane. There it is intimated the preparations of the enemy are superior to their own. Indeed, Kaslo has cause to regret participating in their quest.
Rating: Entertaining. This is not a stand-alone story, unless it be some kind of surreal existentialist fantasy overwhelmed by incomprehensible and meaningless detail.
But it isn’t.
It is part of an ongoing series of stories in which the reader is expected, having begun at the beginning, to already possess situational awareness and a comfort level appropriate to the numerous no-doubt previously explained terms and references abundant in this particular “chapter.” Having figured that out, I reread the story to see if I could make sense of it. In so doing I gained an impression of a rich and diverse greater whole that merits further investigation. Especially for a guy like me normally immune to the attraction of fantasy.
First of all, the dragon used to be a spaceship. THAT piqued my interest. Turns out “reality” used to be what we are accustomed to, but then everything shifted (somehow) into a state where sympathetic magic has largely replaced the laws of physics. Apparently at least one of the wizards had seen this coming and had gone to great lengths to convince people to abandon technology-based civilization for a somewhat medieval life-style, this in order to ensure humanity would survive the transition, which it did. I have the impression the wizards haven’t quite got the hang of things yet and, like everybody else, are still learning to cope and adapt as matters progress. Lots of possibilities in a premise like this.
Possibilities for humour, for one thing, which Hughes playfully exploits. Not least in Kaslo’s constant search for explanations as to what the heck is going on, and the subtle yet quite disturbingly suggestive partial answers he receives or discovers which are far from reassuring. Little annoying things, like the moon having been destroyed as an unexpected side-effect of inter-planer travel. Some people miss moonlight it seems. Fortunately there are magical alternatives to light one’s way, but it’s not the same somehow.
Possibilities for horror, too. The manner in which various threats manifest themselves, at least in this particular “episode,” puts me in mind of William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, that early classic of macabre fantasy which Lovecraft greatly admired. Same sense of unending assault by forces beyond imagination and comprehension. Quite unsettling, actually.
I feel I have caught but a glimpse of what appears to be an ongoing fantasy epic, one I would need to explore and understand further in order to arrive at a better and more involved relationship with what I am reading. But I am definitely intrigued.
This is actually the first piece of fiction by Hughes that I’ve read. (I’ve been out of touch with most modern SpecFic/fantasy for over two decades—trying to catch up I swear!) Intend to read more.