Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss. ★★★1/2
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.