"What we want to see: Adventure fantasy with heroes you want to root for. Warriors either modern or medieval, who solve problems with their wits or with their sword--and we have nothing against dragons, elves, dwarves, castles under siege, urban fantasy, damsels in distress, or damsels who can’t be bothered to be distressed. What we don't want to see: Political drama with no action, angst-ridden teens pining over vampire lovers, religious allegory, novel segments, your gaming adventure transcript, anything set in any universe not your own, “it was all a dream” endings, or screenplays."
When these content guidelines for Baen's first Fantasy Adventure Award were announced, the usual suspects sneered. After all, Larry Correia was named as a judge, and as the International Lord of Hate, Larry is just as evil as they come. How could anything of "quality" seize the prize?
Well. Far be it for me to contradict my social betters in the SFF universe, but the recently-announced grand prize winner - "The Golden Knight" - is actually pretty damned great. Indeed, I hope this will not be last we see from "K.D. Julicher," which, I understand, is a pen name for a husband-and-wife writing team. If this, their first professional publication, spurs them to continue churning out stories in the fantasy genre, I predict we'll see great things from them.
The protagonist of "The Golden Knight" is a man in hiding. The only survivor of a disastrous shipwreck, he has allowed his guilt over the loss of his men to overwhelm his identity as a warrior and a king. But then a kid - a self-declared "squire" who hasn't even outgrown his peach fuzz - arrives, declaring that he's looking for his master, and what ensues is the story of a mentor-pupil relationship that ultimately brings a lost soul back from the brink.
As anyone familiar with my past fannish history probably knows, I love, love, love platonic elder-younger pairings in which the younger's boundless loyalty and innocence in some way redeem the elder. Such stories, I feel, speak to the more profound spiritual reason why most of us become parents (and why I, in the absence of a spouse, have elected to work as a teacher). Biological imperatives to reproduce aside, there is also an instinctual recognition that caring for our children is a salvific enterprise -- and the fact that many succumb to the pop culture's distorted and idolatrous visions of parenting does not in any way negate the nobility of the animating impulse.
To put it another way: Unlike many of the short stories that have recently attracted the plaudits of the fandom's clerisy, "The Golden Knight" actually achieves one of literature's primary functions: It taps into our authentic humanity. For that reason alone, it is well worth a read.
Final Verdict: Highly Recommended.