Quick Review: SUNSET MANTLE by Alter S. Reiss (Tor.com)

ReissAS-SunsetMantleShort epic fantasy

Hero. General. Outcast.

With a single blow, Cete won both honor and exile from his last commander. Since then he has wandered, looking for a place to call home. The distant holdings of the Reach Antach offer shelter, but that promise has a price.

The Reach Antach is doomed.

Barbarians, traitors, and scheming investors conspire to destroy the burgeoning settlement. A wise man would move on, but Cete has found reason to stay. A blind weaver-woman and the beautiful sunset mantle lure the warrior to wager everything he has left on one final chance to turn back the hungry tides of war.

Ever since this novella was announced, I’ve been eager to read it. Like some other fans of fantasy, I sometimes think it would be nice to have a break from the Big Fantasy Tomes that seem to dominate. (Even though we frequently love the door-stoppers, too.) Sunset Mantle promised a shorter fantasy story told in a more compact form — short on length, if not world building and character development. I think it pretty well fulfils that promise, but it’s not without some weaknesses.

First up, I thought the writing was at times a little… off. That’s a really unhelpful way of saying it didn’t always flow as well as I’d hoped. In the opening pages, the word “Antach” came so frequently that it started to get irritating; there are so many factions and terms introduced so quickly at the beginning that I became annoyed. I wanted the story to settle down before getting bogged down in the various factions, etc. It felt like we were getting multiple, compact info-dumps — narrative short-cuts that avoid endless world-building that can bog down some authors’ work — but passages that begged to be spaced out more and given time to settle into the reader’s mind before throwing us another one. Cete’s ascent is fast-paced (in terms of pages) and pretty well-handled. Nevertheless, and perhaps oddly, I wish Reiss had spent a little more time getting us situated and settled in the world, and it would have been nice to get to know Cete a bit better over time.

That all amounts to a bit of a downer-review, unfortunately. But, I do think the novella shows great promise. Would I read more by the author? Absolutely. I’m really interested to read what he comes up with next — short or long form. This novella is just under 200 pages, which is usually the sweet-spot for my taste (otherwise I get impatient or frustrated with lack of… well, story). I guess I just would have liked some more from this one.

A cautious recommendation, therefore, for anyone who loves fantasy but would rather it was a little more focused on telling the story, as opposed to expending pages and pages on world-building and ephemera.

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3 thoughts on “Quick Review: SUNSET MANTLE by Alter S. Reiss (Tor.com)

  1. This is on my list, too, for a similar reason: a one-shot fantasy book that doesn’t immerse me in 1,000+ page trilogy. Good review. I’ll check it out. With a bit of searching, l know I’d be able to find some recently-published quality standalone fantasy books or novellas. It seems like it’s the “book 2 of 3” and “the book 7 finale” that capture a lot of attention.

    Liked by 1 person

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