The Fire Moon
by Isabel Pelech
“They’re still out there, all of them, in the heat and the cold and no water anywhere, with no rites for their poor bones…”
Teshar’s uncle carries her and five other children into the desert as an offering to a dark sorcerer. Teshar escapes, leaving the other children to die. She wanders home from the desert only to learn that the sorcerer was a giant scumbag who took his anger out on her village. At first, this novella seems like standard fantasy fare: a rural kid whisked away by older, wiser wizard figure to save the world. This doesn’t start in the Shire or Emond’s Field or Shady Vale, though. It starts in Hasmahi, a sun-baked village scraping out its existence on the edge of the desert, somewhere in the Khemtesh empire. Teshar goes on to face mummified zombies, a giant scorpion, stone warriors, and a climax at a ruined temple in the desert. If you’re looking for some dark sword and sandals action, this is it.
Why I Chose This One
Basically, the last paragraph of Isabel’s blurb. This is a fantasy world rooted in ancient Egyptian culture and mythology. I grew up on Harryhausen’s sword and sandals movies and this sounded like a fresh take on the Tolkienesque European-style fantasy. Isabel also says she’ll donate a portion of sales to Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.
What I Liked
- Dark fantasy. Khemtesh felt gritty and brutal. These people struggle for survival against the desert itself.
- Gods. This has the notion of Malazan-style ruthless gods. I liked a world built around humans caught between the harsh environment and harsher gods.
- Egyptian culture. This had all the flavor of Egypt, but Khemtesh still felt distinct and unique.
- GURPS. Brilliant. Say what you want about character creation, the splatbooks are a great resource. Using one to world-build a novella? Thumbs up.
What I Didn’t
- There were some moments that felt, I don’t know, anachronistic? At least they didn’t feel consistent with the world-building. The reference to cabinets and the counter in Teshar’s kitchen came to mind. This punched my immersion in the throat.
- Length. I knew this was a novella going in. But, once I started, I wanted more. I wanted to know more about Hasmahi and the social structures. I wanted to know more about the Khemtesh. Hopefully, Isabel revisits Khemtesh some time in the future.
Read This If You Like
- The Malazan books by Steven Erikson
- Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer
- Egyptian myth… and some nods to Greek myth, notably parts of the Theseus myth.
- The Mummy. The Brendan Fraser version, obviously. I shouldn’t even have to say that.
- Possibly for Rick Riordan fans, but a few years older.
Read Indie, scumbags. So let it be written. So let it be done.