The second anthology of fantasy tales compiled and edited by Brown (A Visitor to Sandahl, 2010, etc.) collects eight stories set in and around the town of its title.
According to Brown’s detailed geography, Sandahl is nestled near the junction of three mountain ranges, the trade center of the continent of Methanasia on a world called Pearl. Its true location, however, is Epic Fantasy Land, the quasi-medieval milieu popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien and oft-imitated ever since: Elves, dwarves and humans exist in uneasy company, fighting Dire wolves and other ferocious beasts, finding treasure and casting spells, and encountering unambiguous villains usually evident by their ugly exterior. The runaway hit Game of Thrones series shows that this formula still excites; however, the Sandahl tales offer little that’s new. Though seven different authors contribute, there’s a sameness to the workaday prose—only the opening paragraphs of Amy Sonoda’s “The Girl Who Saw Red” attempt a different register, taking the first-person point of view of the homeless child of its title: “Every day of my life is same. Wake, hide, sneak, hide, steal, hide, eat, ’n hide again.” This is the best story in the bunch, with a grotesque plot twist effectively rendered. Many of the others seem to stop right where the story begins. Zephyrus White’s “The Girl with the Red Curls” links the title character’s bloody visions to a series of gruesome murders but ends with no explanation, just the last line “Whatever the truth, whoever I am, I must find out....” Similarly, Brown’s own “Cliffhanger” covers Cable Hornman’s discovery of a magic sword, but trails off once he learns its origin and destiny. While it’s possible that the answers to this and other mysteries raised by these tales will appear in a future Sandahl collection, the lack of resolution gives this one an unfinished quality.
Familiar tropes and a population of stock characters render Sandahl an unremarkable place.