This short story follows garden mage who is infatuated with a noblewoman. She, on the other hand, holds him in slightly less esteem than her chamber pot. Being the man that he is, he decides to aid her and her lover by stealing a bit of a holy flame from its temple. The one thing this story has going for it, the subversion of the usual formula of courtly love, doesn’t make up for the problems with the content and format of the story.
I’ll start with the good. In most tales of medieval chivalry, you have knights doing ridiculous things to impress a woman whom they’ve chosen as their lady. The relationship is in most instances a chaste one, rendering the love purer (in the medieval mindset). The knights were usually upstanding individuals by the standards of the day. The author of this novella does a good job playing with and twisting this formula.
In this instance, the knight and his lady are petty, she focused on herself and the knight on his debts. The lady’s garden mage, Litain, occupies the role typically held by the knight in this kind of story. Due to his station his imagined relationship with his lady will always remain chaste. He embarks on a perilous journey on her behalf with the understanding she won’t even acknowledge his existence if he succeeds.
Litain succeeds, bit the sacred flame curses both the lady and her knight so that their appearances reflect the people they really are. The result isn’t pretty. Litain suffers no ill effects besides his own guilt, but he returns to the temple to confess his crimes. He is forgiven, although lady and her knight are left to their fates. It’s an interesting spin on stories involving courtly love.
Now, onto the content. A good short story has one point, a lone message it delivers to the reader. Anything in the story that doesn’t efficiently work towards this goal is wasted space. In this instance, meandering and unnecessary descriptions as well a tedious monologue in which the knight lays out a dilemma the reader already knows drag out what is a simple story at its heart. Worse, the characters lack personality and there’s no sense of urgency driving the narrative forward. The author not only wastes a lot of space, but also creates something as interesting as a prescription for antibiotics with what’s left.
Additionally, the author uses too much flowery language. Although the descriptions of Litain’s gardening, the appearance of the various characters, and the environs they occupy are decently written, they do absolutely nothing to move the story forward or set the tone. Descriptiveness is only useful if it helps set the mood. If it’s doing nothing more than telling the reader what something looks like at length, it has no place in a short story. The best writing in the world won’t save a three paragraph description of biscuits.
On top of these issues, the story never finds its stride, a problem made worse by the fact that it is divided into seven chapters with multiple breaks in most of them. There wasn’t enough relevant content to format it as a novella. Any time you’re writing a story that is essentially one thought and find yourself constantly breaking up the text with formatting divisions such as chapters, odds are you need to trim down the content and refocus on the one thought you’re trying to communicate to the reader.
Ultimately, this could have been a somewhat interesting story that played with the traditional formulas of courtly love. Instead, it amounted to little more than a pleasant description of gardening followed by a clumsy morality tale. I give it a 2/5.
If you want to give it a gander, you can pick up a copy from Amazon here.