The following is the first review of Shadows & Light Tales of Lost Kingdoms. First published online at The Fantasy Tavern The review was written by Tracy Falbe.
The literary palates of fantasy readers will appreciate the flavors packed into the anthology Shadows & Light: Tales of Lost Kingdoms. This premium box of chocolates was published by the Pill Hill Press and edited by Alva J. Roberts, who can certainly be proud of the twenty-two short stories that mix a full measure of fantasy with a couple dashes of horror.
The overall quality of the writing in this anthology is very strong. The stories grabbed my attention right away within the first paragraphs and often the first sentences. Vivid imagery, strong emotions, smooth transitions, and tireless action were standards upheld by every author selected for the anthology, and, like a book of paint swatches, all the darker shades of the genre were represented. A daring elf queen, female centaur, changeling warriors, a priestess of the dead, and a barbarian king are a smattering of examples from this suite of stories that were obviously written and selected with care.
As with any anthology, some stories resonated with me more than others, but this will vary with the tastes of each reader. One of my favorites was Azerian: Pawn of the Serpentine Witch by Christopher Heath that could be labeled as heroic fantasy or barbarian fantasy. With lizard men who sacrificed humans, a powerful witch desiring pregnancy, and a barbarian king, this story flowed like hot lava and drew me into its frightening action. My only complaint about the story would be its epilogue, which I considered unnecessary. It answered a few questions, but mostly I thought it came across as notes for future stories that should have been written instead of summarized in an epilogue.
Another story of note is Shadow on the Edge of the City of Light by Bill Ward. It was a well done study in the corruption of an abused innocent who was twisted by a strange seductress and a potently evil ancient sword. The main character's transition to an evil dark lord by an exploitative lover was stark and believable.
Then Lydia Sharp's story The Keeper of Secrets tugged at my emotions as the heroine went to a fateful meeting with her estranged mother. I could relate to apprehension at a homecoming after long departure. Plus, I loved how this story included ocean-based fantasy life forms that supported the protagonist, like mermaids and an octopus being.
Another story with powerful emotions was Treischan Strength by D.M Bonanno who told of an ancient and dying tree's struggle to save its offspring. I have always been sensitive to the life within trees, and I was touched by this narrative that showed the courage of trees.
For fantasy readers who are also fascinated by the Roman Empire, the Sword of Rasna by Gustavo Bondoni offers a fantastical view of the historical struggle between a rising Rome and the older Etruscan society. On a further military note The Siege of Ravelin by Ray Kolb is a well told tale. It compelled me to keep reading with its instant aura of mystery as a bored soldier keeps watch over a supposedly dead city that has been under siege for a century. The author succeeded in making me know that something terrible was going to happen and want to keep reading.
All the stories in this thoughtfully produced anthology deserve praise even if I did not mention them specifically. I rarely give a perfect five sword review because that rating has to be withheld for the best books, but this anthology really did strike me as a superior collection of short fantasy fiction. Shadows and Light would make a great introduction to the genre for someone unfamiliar with it, and it definitely reminded me of why I like fantasy so much.