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Spotlight on: Freehold: Southern Storm edited by Armand Rosamilia
(Monroi Pass, Book I)

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Freehold: Southern Storm edited by Armand Rosamilia Armand Rosamilia (editor), Freehold: Southern Storm (Monroi Pass, Book I)

Shared-world anthologies have never been all that attractive to me. The blend of different authors working from their individual directions in the same setting just always seemed a little off, even when it works well, like in Charles L. Grant's Greystone Bay Chronicles. Now Carnifex Press is launching a new series set in the land of Freehold, with stories by publisher / editor Armand Rosamilia and a slew of up-and-comers. The first trilogy (there are four trilogies proposed) is set in the Monroi Pass region and is called Freehold: Southern Storm.

Rosamilia has been building Freehold in his mind since the mid-'80s, and it is obvious in the detail of his entry in Freehold: Southern Storm, the title novella also called "Freehold: Southern Storm." At 80+ pages, he sets the stage confidently (his story comprises half the book).

A sibling-rivalry duel with wooden training swords resulted in the wounding of Damu Brannock, eldest son of Mad King Damu of Deaxa, by his younger brother Devin. Young Damu was the warrior of the family who was being trained to protect the kingdom, and neither chubby Devin nor his other brother, the scholarly Stephyn, are fit to take his place. In his rage, King Damu sentenced Devin to death.

Luckily, the sensible Wizard Espy arranges for Devin to be sent far away to Monroi Pass, for his own safety. There, he will be trained to defend the area (and, apparently, the rest of the kingdom) against goblins and Vipers. No longer the overweight young boy, Devin Brannock will, during his time in Monroi Pass, become a man ... and just perhaps fulfill an ancient prophecy while he's at it.

Rosamilia's novella sets up Freehold and its city-states smoothly, allowing the reader to ease into the world while being entertained by Devin's story -- which lacks any true ending, so I assume it is to be continued in future volumes of the trilogy. In the meantime, Freehold: Southern Storm treats us to five other authors' takes on Freehold, specifically Monroi Pass, with the occasional overlapping character. M.P. Ericson follows a couple of not-very-trustworthy traders in "On Barren Ground," with a bit of pride and betrayal mixed in with the author's wonderfully descriptive style. Keith Gouveia goes back to Deaxa for "Thieves Among Serpents" which sees the son of a thief watch his father die (the flipside of the father issues so prominent in "Freehold: Southern Storm"). Gouveia also continues the story of Devin somewhat, a bold move that succeeds since it is only supporting Gouveia's main story. But Devin's appearance ties "Thieves Among Serpents" to "Freehold: Southern Storm" more fully than the others, even though I felt that it, too, was only a beginning. I look forward to more from these characters. (Rosamilia has hinted that a standalone novella from Gouveia is in the works.)

Heather Lee Fleming's "It Takes More" follows her original characters through a test, and answers the question, "What does it take?" By this time, I had read so many battles, that yet another one was tiring, Fleming kept me reading with fully-developed characters she obviously knows very well. "Kalini Steel" by Bruce Durham levies the proceedings with a good dose of humor. I really enjoyed these characters as well, and look forward to seeing more from them (since this story also doesn't have any real conclusion). Steve Goble closes things out with a bang. His "Snake Eyes" introduces Hissu, whom the author describes as a "snake-worshipping cannibal insurgent" from the Viper lands. Goble gives us a terrific view of the "villians" of Freehold and I, for one, was grateful. I've always preferred by fantasy dark, anyway. (Hissu is to reappear in the second volume of the series, Freehold: Protector.)

The copies of Freehold: Southern Storm sold by Shocklines are signed by three of the contributors: Rosamilia, Gouveia, and Fleming. (In fact, I only got one because the signature page fell out of one of the books during the signing, and the author didn't want to see it wasted.) Fantasy, especially epic fantasy, isn't usually my cup of tea, but I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of writing (and editing, for an independent press) in this volume, and I look forward to further adventures in Freehold.

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