After a card player cheats Nuaka, she uses her shapeshifting magic to steal a treasure map from his room and heads straight for the ruins. Her expedition seems easy enough—until she discovers the gryphon living in there. Knowing she can’t defeat it in a fight, she risks all in the hopes of tricking it.
The story opens with Nuaka on the edge of the ruins, with much of the opening scene being her thinking back on the circumstances that lead here. While this does provide the reader with an idea of her powers and character (and is likely to garner her some sympathy), it is—as with most reports after the event—somewhat distant rather than fully immersive; thus it might feel somewhat dry.
Once this intial set-up has passed, the narrative becomes a fast-paced and enjoyable battle of wits with Nuaka attempting to convince the gryphon she is in fact a sentient mountain bear (and thus a natural comrade in the brotherhood of ancient magical beings) rather than a human (and thus lunch or slave); this imposture is made more complex by Nuaka only having a finite amount of magical energy, imposing limits of both time and impact.
While Flint does provide an amount of context to this magical issue, allowing this short story to stand alone, she does not go into depth; thus readers unfamiliar with other works set in Cirena might not gain the same emotional understanding of Nuaka’s situation as those familiar with Flint’s magic from other books.
Nuaka is a solid balance of fantasy tropes and individual nuances, displaying a balance between immediate accessibility and freshness most suitable for the protagonist of a short story.
The gryphon is a similar mix of recognisable and unique, providing a pleasingly non-human foil to Nuaka’s ploys without burying the tension beneath philosophical nuances.
Overall, I enjoyed this short story. I recommend it to readers seeking fantasy that doesn’t rely on combat or binary morality for its drama.
I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.