Tom Doolan is a short story writer. He’s also a husband, father, full time graduate student, part time employee, and gamer. This means he has several series in progress, and those who enjoy his work have to wait to get the next installment because he has other things demanding his attention.
Doolan recently collected three stories into the collection we’re going to take a look at today. They’re each from a different series, and each is completely unlike the others in terms of subject matter and setting. The main theme linking the stories is that all of the protagonists are female.
The first story is “Pekra”. Pekra is a young orc, essentially a teenager, who has reached the point in life in which she must choose a mate. In orcish culture, it’s the women who choose the men, and if chosen, the man doesn’t have a lot of say in the matter. Only Pekra has a rival who isn’t going to let her have any happiness if she has anything to say about it.
Unlike the other two stories in this collection, “Pekra” isn’t the first in a series. It’s the sequel to “The Orc Way”. Doolan has a fondness for orcs, and he’s written several stories about orcs, not all of them part of this series. Doolan revised and slightly expanded “Pekra” for its inclusion in With a Silken Fist. I think the story is improved, as he deepens the conflict between Pekra and her rival.
The next story is “Severance”, a tale of a young woman who is seeking revenge against the woman who married her father for his wealth, then killed him, and attempted to kill her, too. Severance has trained herself to be an outstanding assassin, patiently waiting until the time is right to take out her target. The woman Severance is after has a new bodyguard, and taking him out may prove to be harder than killing her target.
This one mingles a couple of fantasy tropes in a way I haven’t seen in a while. I’m intrigued by the possibilities the ending opens up. This story is potentially the start of a what could be an impressive series. There are hints of where things could go in the next installment. I suspect if this series takes off, it will be as novels. The implications of some of the events are big enough that they would need that length to be developed fully..
The final story, “Blood from Sand”, reminded me of the historical adventures of Harold Lamb. It’s definitely fantasy, but the setting had Lamb written all over it. I don’t know if this was intentional on Doolan’s part, but it worked for me. I’ve only read a small part of Lamb’s work, but I liked what I read a lot. This story had some of that same feel.
The story concerns a girl, also an assassin, named Lily who is fleeing into the steppes when she is rescued by a tribesman named Mazlochan. Mazlochan helps to dispatch the men pursuing her, but there are others behind them, including a sorcerer who is relentless in his pursuit of Lily.
This is also the beginning of a series with a great deal of potential. Doolan tells us enough to know that we’re in an imaginary world and that there’s a great deal still to be seen of this world. Of the three stories in this collection, this is the one I liked the best, in part because of the Harold Lamb overtones.
The production values here were all professional. I saw one or two typos, but nothing major. The formatting is good. I would have liked it if the book had an interactive table of contents. The book is short enough that this wasn’t a major issue. What I did like was that each story had a brief introduction in which Doolan gave a bit of background on what inspired the story. I wish more authors would do that type of thing.
With a Silken Fist is a good introduction to an up and coming writer. The stories are diverse in their subject matters and settings. If you like well defined characters, especially strong female protagonists, then check this one out.