Nightblade: Episode One by Garrett Robinson

Nightblade: Episode One by Garrett RobinsonPossessing both a complex female protagonist and mentions of abuse without either homily or glossing, this work demonstrates that high fantasy and gritty realism are not incompatible.

Loren has lived her entire life in a small village in Selvan Forest. Viewed as merely source of free labour by her father, a good dowry in waiting by her mother, and a target for abuse by both, her only escape are her fantasies of becoming the most famous thief in the world. A chance encounter with Xain, a fugitive wizard, leads to a snap decision to leave everything she knows behind.

Robinson’s style and pacing are assured, making immersion and flow easy even when the story deals with difficult concepts.

The choice of a naïve villager as narrator works well for this format. The majority of the limited space is devoted to the immediate issues of Loren leaving the village, both technical and emotional, without the reader feeling the absence of any detail on events beyond the village.

The revelation of Loren’s character is skilfully handled, allowing the reader to see her fantasies as escapism then subverting the reader’s judgement by introducing evidence of the abuse that underpins her desire to be someone and somewhere else. Robinson similarly shows the sudden shifts between trained submission to an abuser and overcompensating strength to others that some abuse victims develop.

However, her character is not defined solely by her abuse. Her relationships with others are also influenced by the same feeling of indestructibility and lack of life-experience that so often afflict those on the verge of adulthood in any time or setting.

Given the short length of the work, there is little space for side plots to reveal background. Instead, Robinson’s carefully balances stereotypical cues with unique detail, creating a cast of supporting characters who have varied and plausible personalities.

Although this is a part-work, it does not suffer from the issue of extensive partial plot arcs that are common to the format. While the major plot of her flight with Xain extends into later episodes, it is brought to a natural break point at the end of this episode.

The various sub-plots arising from both Loren’s past and her flight from the village are similarly either resolved or brought to a point where the reader does not feel an immediate sense of need for the next events.

Overall I enjoyed this work enough to balance my dislike of serialised snippets. I recommend it to reader’s who like fantasy driven by realistic characters rather than epic quests.

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