REVIEW: Old Moon Quarterly: Issue 3, Winter 2023

An intriguing newcomer to the small press dark fantasy fiction scene, Old Moon Quarterly has recently released its third volume. The magazine bills itself as a showcase for weird fantasy fiction and sword & sorcery, citing the works of Clark Ashton Smith, Karl Edward Wagner, and Tanith Lee as touchstones. The first volume debuted in July 2022, followed up by the second in November of the same year. While each issue to date has featured four stories, the page count has grown slightly with each installment. Volume 3 of Old Moon Quarterly boasts striking sepia-toned cover artwork by Daniel Vega, showing an (Elric of Melnibone-inspired?) armored warrior confronted by a twisted, multi-headed monster. There are no interior illustrations or advertisements, and the text is presented in a single column layout.

Old Moon Quarterly: Issue 3, Winter 2023After a brief Introduction comparing Arthurian romances to modern day fantasy adventures, the fiction section of Old Moon Quarterly Volume 3 opens strongly with “Evil Honey” by James Enge. Nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 2010 for his debut novel Blood of Ambrose, James Enge is likely the most widely recognizable author printed in Old Moon Quarterly to date. Like Blood of Ambrose and several short stories from the pages of Black Gate Magazine, Tales From The Magician’s Skull, and elsewhere, “Evil Honey” features Enge’s wandering wizard Morlock Ambrosius, also known as Morlock the Maker. In “Evil Honey” Morlock finds himself magically compelled by the god of bees to come up with a non-lethal way of dealing with an aggressive hive tainted through the consumption of toxic pollen. Shrunk down to bee size by the god, Morlock infiltrates the hive. While the premise seems like something out of a children’s story, Enge plays it mostly straight. Touches of whimsy are overshadowed by the viciousness of the warped bee society, consumed by fear and the desperate need for a common enemy. While “Evil Honey” works fine as a piece of fantasy fiction, one could also view it through a more allegorical lens as a critique of modern nations and their self-destructive, eternal War on Terror. One hopes that there’s a happier solution for the issues dominating post-9/11 America than what Morlock comes up with for the corrupted hive. Setting potential symbolism aside, “Evil Honey” is a fascinating adventure tale and Enge’s moody, sardonic Morlock is always a treat.

The second story is by German writer T. R. Siebert and entitled “Knife, Lace, Prayer.” Where “Evil Honey” was intensely local—even miniature—in scope, this tale is epic to the extreme. It involves a “girl who used to be a beast” journeying across the devastated landscapes of the Ashlands on a mission to slay god. Her world is literally coming apart at the seams, with the god in the process of remaking it into something new. Enraged by the destruction of all she knew and loved, the nameless beast/girl vows revenge. But to find her divine target she must first enlist a guide: a disillusioned paladin named Edmund. While initially I was put off by the vagueness of some of the prose and frequent flashbacks to the girl’s former life as a holy guardian beast, by the end of the story I found myself completely won over. Not only is the story ambitious despite its brief page count, its conclusion is immensely satisfying.

“Singing the Long Retreat,” by R. K. Duncan, is told through the eyes of Fatima, a warrior woman of the Prepared, a cavalry unit tasked with holding off an invading army while the rest of Fatima’s people make their escape. The odds are overwhelming and, as the name suggests, the Prepared are resigned to their own deaths. Songs and poems are evidently important to Fatima’s people, and she sings throughout the battle that ensues, improvising lyrics to raise the morale of her comrades and intimidate their foes. Nearly the entire story is one extended battle scene. The general ebb and flow of combat is narrated as well as individual acts of self-sacrificing heroism, all punctuated by Fatima’s verses. While it reminded this reviewer of Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” the lack of any conclusive resolution robs the story of much of its inspirational power. “Singing the Long Retreat” seems more an exercise in creating a mood than relating a plot. While I did not enjoy it as much as the other contributions in this Old Moon Quarterly volume, the overall quality of the prose remained high.

The final story is “The Feast of Saint Ottmer,” by Graham Thomas Wilcox, an assistant editor of Old Moon Quarterly. The Arthurian romance touched upon in this volume’s Introduction returns here, in this tale of knighthood and honor. Told in the first person, this novella centers on the youthful knight Hieronymous and his role in the siege of a keep at Kienhorst. The graf of Kienhorst was responsible for the death of Hieronymous’s father, and honor demands retribution. The situation is complicated by the participation in the siege of a contingent of knights called the Order of the Dragon. Fearsome in aspect and more battle-tested by far than Hieronymous, he finds himself longing to be counted among their number. But the darkly alluring nun that commands the Order demands Hieronymous murder the enemy graf, rather than ransom him alive as chivalric convention requires. Throughout the bloody conflict to follow Hieronymous finds himself torn between the obligations of familial duty and the pursuit of martial prowess, the opposing teachings of his father and his grandfather. Drenched in gory, gothic, grimdark flavor, “The Feast of Saint Ottmer” is operatic, even bombastic. One could fairly describe this story as overwritten (some dialogue is in Latin, with accompanying footnotes!), but the ornate prose effectively conjures a darkly vibrant atmosphere. It overshoots Arthurian romance, ending up closer to the opening scenes of Vlad Dracula as armored warrior in the Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Over-the-top fun, “The Feast of Saint Ottmer” even edged out James Enge’s “Evil Honey” as the highlight of the issue for me.

Finally, Old Moon Quarterly volume 3 concludes with a book review for Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror and Other Spectacles, a movie-themed horror anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. Assistant editor Graham Thomas Wilcox returns to examine stories by Gemma Files, Laird Barron, and John Langan in detail. The cinematic horror of the anthology under review contrasts with the fantasy fiction included in this volume, but given the dark tenor of most of the stories here it’s easy to imagine a considerable overlap in readership.

Old Moon Quarterly may be new to the marketplace, but the high quality fiction and affordable cover price make it well worth checking out. Many ambitious fiction magazines struggle with the demands of monthly or bimonthly schedules, but the measured release pace and competitive author rates of Old Moon Quarterly will hopefully allow a steady stream of polished dark fantasy tales for years to come.

Read Old Moon Quarterly – Vol. 3 edited by Julian Barona, Graham Thomas Wilcox, and Caitlyn Emily Wilcox

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Robin Marx

Robin Marx

Born in Spain and raised in the United States, Robin Marx has lived in Japan for more than two decades. He works in the video game industry, handling localization and international licensing. In addition to over a dozen video games, his writing has appeared in a number of role-playing game supplements. He lives with his wife and their two daughters. You can link up with Robin over at: https://mastodon.social/@RobinMarx

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