3 of 5 stars.
This allegorical tale paints a bizarre, if not surreal, picture of responsibilities, actions and consequences in the face of disaster. By working within the theater of the absurd, fables can lessen the accusatory nature of the moral, like sugar for bitter medicine. However, this tale is not made easy with its shifting dimensions and construction and the shifting second person narration that fails to incorporate the you in any meaningful position since it wavers from the hero character to that of his cautious crew and back again.
The world of this tale is a puppet world of cloth in two dimensions, and it’s the shadow world of those puppets. It’s the light that creates the shadows of being and the absence of light that cancels out the beings with lack of contrast. It’s also the fire that initiates the light and the fire that destroys the cloth-&-paper of the puppets. The tale reads as a trippy prose poem, but loses strength with its loose definitions therein.
The lights are dimming on the world, whether by fault or neglect. The queen with her scepter as a symbol of power sends the Knight of Pyres on a quest for the Jewel of Mirrors held by the philosopher-king to the east. [Oddly, the jewel is a book. But it is all smoke and mirrors in that it doesn’t matter.] Before the philosopher-king submits, he challenges the knight in his belief that the knight has no heart: Heart isn’t what you have. It’s what you do. The jewel/book and the eastern subjects are brought back to the queen who disposes of the book and reveals her real plan for the subjects. The knight, considering his heart, opts not to blindly follow orders, but to take action . . .
“Combustion Hour” appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 edited by Paula Guran and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Tor.com, June 18, 2014. I’ve previously reviewed Lee’s “Wine”.
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