Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Reave the Just

by Stephen Donaldson


I'm not a great fan of short stories. They usually end just as you are beginnning to enjoy them and with escapist fantasy as with weekends, the longer the better. But since this was written by Stephen Donaldson the collection seemed to be worth a try.

The book consists of eight stories, the shortest of which is eighteen pages long. Obsessive fans may be disappointed because some of these have already been published in various places, although three are new.

Reave the Just concerns Jillet, a very naive man who wants to win the love of the widow Huchette. He's far too charmless to get a date on his own merits so he visits an alchemist and asks for a love potion. The alchemist, a charlatan, charges him a fortune and gives him a useless potion. He also tells Jillet to incant the words "my kinsman, Reave the Just", to activate it. These "magic" words work better than expected and get Jillet into deep trouble with a brutal man who is living with the widow and forcing her to be his wife. What follows is a salutary tale about the power of ideas.

"The Djinn Who Watches Over The Accursed" is the story of Fetim, a weak man who is cursed for cuckolding someone. All those who love him must die whilst he is protected. Unusually this is told from the point of view of the Djinn.

In The Killing Stroke three warriors from different schools of fighting arts are imprisoned magically. They are tested against a magical warrior who has repeatedly defeated them. They are resurrected each time, but retain no memory of how they got there. They are trying to work out how to pass the test and escape imprisonment by pooling their knowledge.

That one ends with a twist, as does "The Woman Who Loved Pigs". This is the story of a half-wit woman who is adopted by what appears to be a pig.

"What Makes Us Human" is the only science fiction in the collection. It concerns a generation spaceship sent by the colonised planet Aster to discover what has happened to the Earth. The atmosphere is full of suspense as they are fired on by a mysterious hostile ship.

Perhaps my favourite is the dark and involving "By Any Other Name", which is almost a novelette. This deals with a cowardly merchant who is exiled from his town because he refuses the demands of a necromancer. He rescues a stranger from a river in spate, and this stranger steals his horse and his name without explanation.

As you might expect from Donaldson the quality of the stories is consistently good. His style is thoughtful but not too cerebral, and he's not afraid of letting the million-to-one chance work every time. He assumes the standard fantasy or sf settings so none of it is genre-busting.

It's all good clean fun though, except when it's good sick and twisted fun. Donaldson's imagination doesn't flinch at anything and some scenes are quite sexually explicit, although they are always tastefully phrased. Don't read this if you are easily shocked. But if you can cope with torture, gore, rape, and men in pointy hats, I thoroughly recommend this.

Book Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Books

  Not For The Squeamish  

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Review © Ros Jackson