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Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss

Sunset Mantle

by Alter S. Reiss

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Sunset Mantle is a solid work of high fantasy. What’s most fascinating about it is that for all it’s battles and political intrigue, it’s less than 200 pages long. That’s right ya’ll. This is a high fantasy novella.

Cete is a wandering solider for hire. He knows that Reach Antach is about to be on the losing side of a war and that the smart thing to do would be to move on… but somehow, he just can’t bring himself to do so. When he sees a beautifully embroidered mantle made by a blind craftswoman, he becomes inspired to stay and to risk everything for the town of Reach Antach.

The world of Sunset Mantle doesn’t have magic, but it does have a historical feel. I’ve seen other reviewers say it reminded them of the Old Testament, but I was personally thinking of the ancient Greek city states. A small number of cities loan out the supplies and money needed to found new cities, the Reaches, which are then in debt for hundreds of years, due in part to constant warring with local tribes. Reach Antach has found a faster way out of their debt by creating an alliance with the nearest tribe, giving them the peace and prosperity needed to raise the funds to pay off their settling debt. Of course, this threatens a situation that is immensely beneficial to the most powerful cities, hence war is soon arriving.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this story was my type of thing. While it was solidly executed, there’s nothing about it that would ever draw me to reread it or even to remember it. Sunset Mantle is missing that hard to define element that makes you connect to the characters and world and become emotionally invested in the plot. Basically, it ended up feeling paint by numbers. Of course, it could be due to my preferences as a reader. There’s certain things I really love in fantasy books (inventive world building, active female characters, queer characters, heist plots, ect.) and Sunset Mantle didn’t really fall into any of those categories. Maybe fans of military fantasy would enjoy it more.

My favorite thing about Sunset Mantle was Cete’s relationship with the blind weaver, Marelle. They do become romantically involved, but their relationship is based on mutual respect. Even though the world of Sunset Mantle appears to be a patriarchal society, Cete treats Marelle as an equal and listens to her advice on what decisions he should make.

Perhaps readers with different tastes will enjoy Sunset Mantle more, but it’s not a story I will ever return to.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | Apr 3, 2017 |
Sunset Mantle is my first venture into Tor.com’s impressive line-up of novellas from their brand spanking new publishing arm. It wasn’t originally on my to-read list, but after hearing it described as a pocket-sized epic fantasy, I decided I had to take a look after all. The idea of a story like that, packed into just over 190 print copy pages really intrigued me.

The book’s protagonist is Cete, a former hero now in exile. Dismissed from his command both in honor and disgrace, he wanders the Reaches in search for a new place to call home. His travels lead him to Reach Antach, a settlement doomed to fall in the coming storm of infighting among several factions. But before Cete can turn on his heels and leave, a chance meeting with a blind woman in her shop changes everything.

Hanging there on display is the sunset mantle, beauty and light embroidered in cloth. The fine craftsmanship touches Cete in a way he cannot understand; all he knows is that he must have it, and if he can’t, he would want to commission a garment for himself from the shopkeeper and weaver, Marelle. To afford the commission and to stay in Reach Antach, Cete would have to find employment, and to find employment, Cete was going to have to go back to doing what he knows best. Once a fighting man, always a fighting man. However, being in the army also means being embroiled in the politics and schemes of the various clans trying to destroy Reach Antach, and even as his relationship with Marelle deepens, Cete’s fight eventually becomes more than just the mantle and even more than love.

This story left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am beyond impressed with author Alter S. Reiss’s marvelous success at laying out Cete’s journey from outcast to legendary warrior, all within this very slim volume. Sunset Mantle is not a “true” epic fantasy per se, with no magical element, and nor does it span a gazillion kingdoms or have enough points-of-view to populate a small village. There is, however, enough political intrigue to fill two fantasy worlds. This degree of complexity is not something I would have expected from a novella, and it also makes the scope of the story feel much, much bigger than the thin slice of what we get to see. Reiss gets a lot more accomplished in under two hundred pages than it takes some other authors to do the same thing in novels three to four times as thick. It does have a way of making you stop and wonder just how much gratuitous or unnecessary flourish goes into some of these doorstoppers.

I also really liked Cete as a protagonist as well as the nature of his relationship with Marelle, which goes much deeper than a romantic union. The trust and honesty between them is a rare thing to find indeed, even between two lovers. Cete sees Marelle as his equal, taking her guidance and respecting her need to do what she believes is right, even if it means letting her put herself in harm’s way. Cete also treats his own soldiers with that same practical respect. He is a man of honor and duty, as evidenced by the loyalty he shows Reach Antach, even though he came to them as a stranger and outcast. Other highlights include the battle scenes, which are quick but powerful, making the most out of the restrictive page count.

That said, the book wastes no words in establishing the situation surrounding Reach Antach and the city clans. Blink, and you could potentially miss something important. Ironically, it made Sunset Mantle a slower read, and it doesn’t give you much time to chew on the plot or characters. In fact, most of my questions came later, after I had finished the book and had some time to mull over what I just read. It made me realize a lack of background information made the story a little harder to understand, and sometimes that uncertainty or need to re-read a passage or two distracted from my enjoyment and prevented me from being fully engaged. Simply put, the overall style of the narrative begs to be savored, but the format is not that well suited for it.

Still, there’s something to be said about something as special as Sunset Mantle. It’s true I would have preferred a bit more breathing room, but that is not an uncommon complaint from me when it comes to novellas and short fiction. I’m usually very picky about this format, which is probably why I don’t read as much of it as I should. All things considered, I was actually quite pleased with this novella, which for me is saying a lot. ( )
  stefferoo | Mar 8, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 076538521X, Paperback)

With a single blow, Cete won both honor and exile from his last commander. Since then he has wandered, looking for a place to call home. The distant holdings of the Reach Antach offer shelter, but that promise has a price.

The Reach Antach is doomed.

Barbarians, traitors, and scheming investors conspire to destroy the burgeoning settlement. A wise man would move on, but Cete has found reason to stay. A blind weaver-woman and the beautiful sunset mantle lure the warrior to wager everything he has left on one final chance to turn back the hungry tides of war.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 03 Aug 2015 22:19:46 -0400)

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