Review of Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss (Tor.com September 15, 2015)
This is the story of the warrior Cete and the seamtress with whom he fell in love. He was attracted to her shop by a beautiful mantle which he is told was paid for but not bought . Marelle lives in Reach Antach and Cete joins the Antach Army in order to buy a work from her.
Things don’t go so well for Cete after the army musters out. His relationship with Marelle had advanced to him visiting her shop almost daily before the army went into battle. She ends up taking him to her house after he receives a beating but he gets upset because they aren’t married and she could be shamed by his presence. Ever the practical woman, Marelle promptly returns with a priest to marry them! She links her fate to Cete’s by marrying him. They both must help save the Reach from traitorous army officers who hate Cete because he exposed their plans.
The cultures in the setting are just hinted at in some cases but clearly there are many tribes and many towns, all with their own ways. Cete is a warrior who loves beautiful embroidery, so the two sides of his nature are clear from the first scene. Both sides of him exert an influence on his behavior, making him a complex character who commands others in war but also loves spending time at home. He is able to motivate the non-warriors of the Reach to fight to defend their families because his nature allows him to see what would push their anger forward to save them all.
Cete and Marelle have a wonderful relationship and they are left with opportunities at the end of the novella, so hopefully we will see them again!
This novella looks at the issues of lawful orders versus ethical orders. Should an officer follow someone’s orders if he knows they are a traitor? Anyone who loves low tech military battles, or military fantasy will appreciate the well-done ones here. Also, the cost of the war to the people of both sides is quite clear and is not glossed over at all.