The Anomalous Archive, Part VI: 'Power of a Name' by Avily Jerome

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on April 9, 2010.]

 "Power of a Name," 3rd in Issue 2 of The Cross and the Cosmos

Out of all the stories in the first two issues of The Cross and the Cosmos that I've read, "Power of a Name" by Avily Jerome uses the modern conventions of popular high fantasy the most. Those who have read a series or two of recent secular high fantasy will recognize the magical-psychological bond right away, which takes different forms in different fantasies. In "Power of a Name," the fantasy convention of the magical-psychological bond (I can't think of a better term for it) takes place between humanoids (not between humanoids and dragon-like creatures as in many fantasies) and only transmits emotions and feelings (thus not allowing mental communication) while somehow physically strengthening both of the parties. This is also more or less how the Warder bond works in The Wheel of Time series.

"Power of a Name" starts out very strong. The opening scene is made interesting as the way in which the author used the magical-psychological bond is revealed. A little background information is revealed, including mention of a legendary villain from the past, which is very promising and suggests the epic scope of most fantasy novels.

It doesn't take very long for it to become clear that no further background details will be forthcoming. The story is essentially set in a skeleton outline common to many, if not most, high fantasy novels. Now, I don't want to sound as if I were demanding originality, which is always very difficult for this genre. I don't care very much whether the setting is somewhat derivative, but I do want the setting to be detailed, and even more importantly, imaginative. On the contrary, "Power of a Name" uses vague terms where there should be made-up fantasy names. A military training organization is simply called "the Academy." There are two warring factions in "Power of a Name", but neither of them is given a name. When the two important characters stand on the battle field preparing to join battle with their "enemy," this enemy is never even described, let alone named! The reader will never know whether they're fighting ugly goblinoid creatures or refined knights from a hostile kingdom. I realize that it may be beyond the scope of a short story to develop a detailed setting and corresponding mythology, but I still want to see bits and pieces of that setting/mythology when they naturally have the opportunity to appear. As it is, you can almost imagine this story taking place in the world of your favorite high fantasy novel.

Part of the problems is that this short story may well be too short. If the author had taken more space for description and slowed the advance of the plot enough to reveal more information about her setting, the story would probably have been awesome! At the end, the author tries to build up emotional appeal, but I was unable to become emotionally engaged because neither the plot nor the setting were given enough details to cause me to become emotionally invested in the fate of the characters. This caused the end to seem quite awkward to me.

Despite its many problems, "Power of a Name" is well written. The prose is beautiful in places, which is part of the reason that made the very beginning of the story come off well for me. This reinforces my feeling that this story had great potential that it largely failed to live up to.

There may be some Christian analogy in this story. When I was looking for symbolism, I couldn't decide which of the two main characters metaphorically redeems the other. They both redeem each other in different ways. I don't think there is intentional specific symbolism, but the major moral of the story is clearly applicable to the self-sacrificial love that Christians ought to exhibit to their brothers and sisters in the Lord. In a more general way, it is perhaps analogous to Christ's redemption at Calvary.

As you can probably see, this short story produced mixed feelings for me. I'm happy to see my favorite genre represented, but I do wish that the author had at least developed the setting more.

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