After an act of brigandry goes awry, the seductive thief Emrasarie and the hulking swordsman Uralant the Untamable find themselves at the mercy of the masked sorcerer Zelaeus. Their lives at his disposal, he compels the pair to board Numynaris’s Ark in search of forbidden arcane secrets. An enigmatic relic left by an ancient and cruel race, the colossal vessel drifts along the mist-shrouded Amaranthyn river, playing host to a hallucinatory bacchanal: the titular Frolic on the Amaranthyn. Emrasarie and Uralant soon learn that the ethereal beauty of the Ark and its Frolic conceals a deeper rot.
A briskly-paced 101-page novella, Frolic on the Amaranthyn blends swashbuckling action with nightmarish horror elements in the tradition of Weird Tales magazine. While the ornate diction and cynical approach to sorcery and its practitioners immediately bring to mind Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance, the diametrically opposed protagonists and their heist mission recall Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The lush, phantasmagorical prose reminds the reader of Tanith Lee, late queen of dark fantasy.
Chase A. Folmar takes a broad strokes approach to both characterization and world building. The reader is not told much about the heroes or the world in which they live, just enough to serve the requirements of the story. We learn that Emrasarie is an orphan with a history of exploitation at the hands of men. She has light fingers and has learned to use her striking beauty to her advantage. Her partner Uralant, on the other hand, has a hot temper and the brawn to back it up. The setting of Frolic on the Amaranthyn has a vaguely ancient Greek feel, reinforced by Folmar’s choice in diction: this is a world in which autochthons are beholden to eupatrids, rather than one where commoners are ruled by nobles.
While character backgrounds and setting details are kept brief, Folmar revels in describing the present scene. Like Smith and Vance, he spices the text with obscure and evocative terminology. Colubrine, autolatry, myriapod, incarnadine, erubescent, inuculent, rufescent, amaurotic, etc. Nearly every page of Frolic on the Amaranthyn includes a term that would be at home in a Word-a-Day calendar. This style of prose unashamedly places flavor above accessibility, but during my first read-through of the book I resisted the temptation to reach for the dictionary. As with Smith and Vance, I elected instead to just relax and let the rhythm and musicality of the unfamiliar words wash over me. Later reviewing the book with dictionary at hand provided some additional nuance and specificity, but this extra research was not in any way required to comprehend or enjoy the book.
A world of dark beauty is presented through the poetic prose and exposition. We are reminded repeatedly that, though surface elements may be beautiful—such as the architecture and luxurious finery on display—like Zelaeus’ exquisite mask it often serves to hide a deeper corruption. For all the superficial aesthetic beauty, brutality is never far away. The upper classes subsist heavily on their inferiors, and are willing to use violence to maintain this status quo. Over the course of Frolic on the Amaranthyn, Emrasarie and Uralant learn that humanity is threatened by an even more malicious and insidious parasite.
Numerous dark fantasy and classic Sword & Sorcery elements are present in Frolic on the Amaranthyn, but the choice to have the protagonists be a romantic couple is an uncommon choice for the genre. They don’t fall in love over the course of the adventure, they’re not friends (with or without benefits), they are already dedicated to each other. This intense commitment comes into play during the course of the story, with both of them drawing strength from their bond and using it to overcome both physical trauma and mind-affecting enchantments. This aspect of the characters felt fresh and ripe for further exploration.
Frolic on the Amaranthyn delivers an exciting and fast-paced dark fantasy adventure with appealing protagonists in a distinctive setting. This reader was left hoping that Folmar will return to the duo and their intriguing world in the future.