Friday, September 21, 2007

The Bound Man, by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Bound Man
Mary Robinette Kowal
All Star Stories: Twenty Epics

Mary Robinette Kowal must have played some video games in her past or had some sort of working knowledge of the Standard RPG Quest. As “The Bound Man” opens a mother is asked to “heal” her child and then to “Show her armor”...the feeling here is that the White Mage is “Equipping” her armor just for a moment, though Li Reiko is not a White Mage in RPG terms. Later, some men are on a quest having recovered a sword hidden beneath an elf’s house. It feels like Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior. But the similarity is only that that opening sense of familiarity in what sort of world “The Bound Man” takes place in. The story is part of the Twenty Epics anthology, which means that the stories are all Epic Fantasy. “The Bound Man” is that. It is more.

After being summoned by magic to the aid of Halldor and Duke Larus, Li Reiko binds Halldor to her service. Larus wonders how many of the “sagas” are true because Li Reiko is something out of legend.

That line makes me wonder: Mary Kowal has lived and worked in Iceland for a time. Are there any ties to Icelandic Sagas, myths, or legends here? Just something to ponder while I read the story.

The story is a quest, an epic. We know this from the title of the Anthology and what Kowal introduces us to from the beginning of the story. The story is not so simple. Li Reiko, the “Chooser of the Slain”, a being of magic and deadly skill is just as human as those who summoned her, but she must play at being their legend to get back home to her children.

Do you like epic fantasy? The work of Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, or David Eddings? Do you like that sense of High Fantasy in a Middle Ages setting where there are swords, magic, battle, and grand adventures? “The Bound Man” by Mary Robinette Kowal satisfies in all ways. Do you want that High Fantasy to have something of a twist, something that you may not have seen before or considered before? “The Bound Man” has that, too. Li Reiko is not what she seems or who Larus and Halldor thinks she is. As the story progresses our understanding of what happened and how Li Reiko was summoned grows. “The Bound Man” is part heroic fantasy, part heartbreak.

When I read the World Fantasy Award nominated “A Siege of Cranes” by Benjamin Rosenbaum I was not too impressed. Twenty Epics would be filled with talented writers, but not stories to engage me or make me care. But now, if Twenty Epics contains “The Bound Man” as well...well, this is an anthology that might well be worth reading.

The World Fantasy committee picked the wrong Twenty Epics story for their nomination.

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