4 of 5 stars.
This short story is impressively long on world-building. Eliciting echoes of the worlds created by Scott Lynch for his novels The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies and Patrick Rothfuss for his The Kingkiller Chronicle series, this tale brings a flickering light into the darkness of the dystopian underbelly of a war-torn, devastated city.
Abrahan Anastasis lives like a rat in what remains of the ground floor of his former three-story house buried beneath its own rubble pancaked between the abandoned bakery and the bombed-out church. There are worse places in the Undercity of Illin, not that his mother will wander even a mile from the house in the brief hours of light, let alone in the dark. The dark and tumbled places are infested with demons and gremlins and laced with unexploded brymmstones and war-fiends. The denizens of the shining, well-lit Upper City with its mirror men enforcers do nothing to assuage the suffering and starvation of the Lower Illini. Abe’s mother still cries over the loss of Abe’s lawyer father who didn’t survive the war.
The ironically named Brotherhood of Light, a loose band of thieves, sellswords and cutthroats in Undercity, has given Abe a loan heavy with expectation and threat in order for him to procure an arcane book of conjuration to level the playing fields between the two layers of Illin. But Abe is in over his head. The threats to his mother and him are many: the Upper City, the vestiges of the war, the Brotherhood of Light, the book itself . . .
The concept and writing of this story is richly layered and deserving of a full-length novel if not a novel series. The story is illustrated by artist contest winner Shuangjian Liu. As a quarterly short story contest winner, “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” merited inclusion in the anthology Writers of the Future Volume 31 by L. Ron Hubbard. I received the anthology through Net Galley.
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