Cirsova 8’s “Only a Coward” by Jennifer Povey

If you want to catch the eye of a Catholic, you could do a lot worse than the opening to Jennifer Povey’s Only A Coward:

“Only a coward chooses death over a difficult life,” Selien spoke those words as the knife hacked through the braid of her hair.”

As a minor quibble, the sentence would have more impact if it were made clear Selien is cutting her own braid off. While it’s not strictly passive voice, it’s also not the knife doing the hacking. It’s Selien. She’s mad that her kinsfolk want her to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre instead of haring off after his murderer. She turns her back on her people and rides out on a stolen pony, eludes escape, and now we’re cooking with gas!

Otherwise, the opening scene of this story is a clinic on tight writing.  The stakes are made clear immediately, as are the challenges, and the ultimate goal.  Povey does in the space of a couple of hundred words what many writers can’t do in a thousand.

Only A Coward consists of a chase scene in which Selien gets a little supernatural help catching the man that did her wrong. Like the chase, the climactic ending has a lot of twists and turns. Povey shows a real knack for efficient storytelling that could have used a little more fleshing out. Speaking as a big fan of minimalist descriptions in fiction, this story really cried out for more details of the world Selien inhabits. With so little to go on, the reader winds up with a scene in his head that lacks focus. The geography receives plenty of attention, an important factor in a tracking and chasing sequence, but a little more indication of the tech level, the style of dress of the characters, the cultural motivations and assumptions, all of that world building would have helped flesh out the story and deliver a more satisfying resolution.

About Jon Mollison

Jon Mollison was weaned at the literary knee of Tolkein, Howard, Moore, and Burroughs. He spent decades wandering in the wilderness of modern genre fiction, wondering when the magic and wonder went out of the world of dragons and space ships. In his darkest hour, he encountered a wise man who handed him the open secrets to crafting works that emulate the stories of the great authors who built the genre. They are easily summarized in but two words: Regress Harder. Now one of the twelve champions of the Pulp Revolution, his self-published works represent a more direct lineage to the tales of action, mystery, romance, virtue, and pure unalloyed adventure than the bland imitations churned out by New York City publishing houses in recent decades.
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