Swords and Maidens Review

Review: Swords and Maidens edited by N.R. LaPoint

Swords and Maidens is a short story anthology featuring eleven tales of heroics in a range of sci-fi and fantasy settings. Edited by N.R. LaPoint, this collection will gratify anyone looking for simple fun.

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Swords and Maidens. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains spoilers.

Swords and Maidens Publisher Description:

From magic battlefields where horses fear to tread, to flying fortresses, fantastical otherworlds, a planet infested with eldritch abominations, and lands ruled by fear, heroes will fight for what is worth fighting for. Knights in gleaming armor, soldiers, Middle Earth’s most deadly Elvish assassin, hunters, and kings. All will risk their lives to defend the defenseless, to destroy monsters, to preserve the lives and honor of fair maidens.

See a soldier fight to rescue a besieged princess from marauding, magitech barbarians, an immortal knight fight for a farmstead, a husband and wife fight for the honor of a fallen comrade against a deadly dragon, a hunter seek to recover a maiden’s stolen soul, an elf defend a woman from assassins, a deposed king fight for his kingdom, and more!

Complete list of stories:

“Wings of Ether” by TJ Marquis
“The Shrouded Tower” by Michael Gallagher
“The Winged Horse” by Hawkings Austin
“Three Swords” by Blake Carpenter
“Harem Fantasy in Another World” by John C. Wright
“Azrael” by NR LaPoint
“Crazy Like an Elf” by Declan Finn
“The Gift” by Anne Clare
“The Supercomputers of Rai” by Alexander Hellene
“Vivre Le Patriarchy!” by L. Jagi Lamplighter
“Judgement Sun” by JD Cowan

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Review:

Pulp and Superversive

LaPoint references both Pulp and Superversive in his foreword to the anthology, and I think these monikers communicate well what a reader can expect, if you are familiar with them.

As I saw in Corona-chan—my first experience with an indie anthology—pulp delivers a focus on action and entertainment that is obviously present in their shorter works as well as longer ones. The result is a sharp contrast between the pacing and resolutions of stories like the ones that appear in Swords and Maidens and any tradpub anthology of short stories. The latter tend to be gimmicky in both plot twists and themes, intent on subverting reader expectations as a sort of genre trend often at the cost of story resolution.

Meanwhile, Swords and Maidens delivers unexpected situations, heroic action, beautiful descriptions of fantastic settings, steady pacing, and satisfying endings.

A great example of this is N.R. LaPoint’s own contribution “Azrael.” The princess’s soul has been stolen and our hero braves a Dark Souls-like wasteland full of abominations to save her. There is a subtle twist to the ending that leaves the reader more satisfied—makes the resolution more gratifying—rather than sowing disturbance.

Outlandish Premises

LaPoint says in his foreword, “Back in the 1980s, pop culture wasn’t afraid to portray heroes as heroic and to have outlandish premises.”

This anthology certainly delivers on this. Michael Gallagher’s “The Shrouded Tower” portrays a hero who broke his oath in the past and has worked hard to do the right thing since. Even though he is confronted by a villain who questions the value of his constant battle with himself, he does not down. A story that in the wrong hands would result in “disillusionment” and nihilism instead affirms the heroic values.

One of the “outlandish premises” I particularly enjoyed was “The Winged Horse” by Hawkings Austin, full of time twisting, magic shards, necromancy, and a blimp. I would love to read more from this setting!

Maidens

A feminist reading of Swords and Maidens would immediately condemn it based on the use of women as objects of reward for the hero.

Take “Wings of Ether” by T.J. Marquis, which is a simple story and opens the anthology. The princess’s father offers her hand to whoever can save her—shocking! Patriarchy bad!—and the main character, who needs no such encouragement, sets out to do so. The characters are not complex, which means they are as they initially appear to be and do not require problems to make them “realistic.” The love between the maiden and hero is pure and reassuring. It is a good tale and fits well within this anthology.

Contrary to the feminist dismissive objection, the treatment of women in these stories is always with love and respect. The “use of women as objects of reward for the hero” is soundly condemned in John C. Wright’s “Harem Fantasy in Another World,” where a selfish “hero” who enslaves women is confronted by a noble crusader.

But the more nuanced position of these authors collectively is still abhorrent to the feminist viewpoint because it is complementarian. The men and women in these stories have clear roles and fulfilling those roles is what leads to the good endings. “Vivre La Patriarchy” by L. Jagi Lamplighter reverses the rewards premise, giving the female main character a knight in shining armor at the end…so that he can protect and provide for her as they work together towards the success of her farm.

The feminist literary criticism has its uses, particularly in providing a way to talk about how the depiction of men and women influence a story’s thematic worldview. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing traditional values emphasized in Swords and Maidens.

Chivalry and Valor

LaPoint asserts, “Each of the eleven tales is a unique take on the themes of chivalry and valor.”

This would make a wonderful discussion for a book club, and I can’t go into my own thoughts on each of the stories here. I can say confidently that there is no story that undermines the value of heroism or thematically treats faith as foolish.

Two More

I have already discussed a few of the stories I enjoyed, but I wanted to make sure to mention Declan Finn’s “Crazy Like an Elf,” which is about Middle Earth’s Most Wanted Elvin Assassin. The context of the story provided a neat complication that really fleshed out the romantic interest in a way that some of the other stories lacked.

The last one I’ll talk about is “Three Swords” by Blake Carpenter. I really enjoyed the older main characters, particularly the wife (the story’s “maiden,” but semantics aside…). What struck me about this story was the thematic treatment of revenge. I recently read and enjoyed Deathbringer by Carpenter. In this novel, the first in a series, the treatment of revenge contains less reproach. I wonder if, in this short, we glimpse where the series will ultimately land thematically.

Check Out Swords and Maidens!

Swords and Maidens is full of simple, unadulterated, heroic diversion. Furthermore, it is a good collection from this group of authors. I look forward to trying more from them all!

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