The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.
On the question of whether this story is fantasy or horror, I come down on the side of horror—as a subset of the genre called dark fantasy. It’s a classic plot: the bad guy who tries to cheat a supernatural opponent and gets what he deserves. I like the retro feel here, the noir elements, the mid-twentieth-century vibe—and, just for fun, the echo of Dickens in the face in the door knocker.
Overall I think it works. Doyle is appropriately skeevy without going too far over the top. The Bishop does tend to Hold Forth, but it fits his personality. He Explains Things. It’s a trait that defines a preacher, and a cleric in general.
I have one large-ish question and a couple of smaller ones. In the latter category, the Marleyesque door knocker is a nice effect, as is ramping it up with the homage to Doyle’s Irish heritage in the banshee’s cry. I might have liked to see just a bit more reaction from Doyle, more concern about what it means. He blusters his way through it, but it feels as if there’s a connection or two missing. Would he take it as more of a warning that the Bishop is on to him, and proceed with more caution? Or is he deliberately putting it out of his mind while he focuses on his scam?
I’m not sure Doyle would be concerned about the Church allowing a bishop to gamble. Catholic parishes have been running Bingo games for generations, along with raffles and similar games of chance. The Church herself is a wicked old strumpet, and she’s run every kind of game, from the Crusades to the church fair. Doyle being an Irishman might acknowledge this with a wink and a nod.
The cards are an issue, too. Would he push back harder on using the Bishop’s deck? Would he be more suspicious that the Bishop insists on using this particular one? Wouldn’t he wonder if there’s some sort of chicanery involved?
That brings me to my big question, which is the central metaphor of the story. The title reads to me as a chess reference, but the story is not about chess. Is there a way to play on the Bishop’s position without switching games? Could he be one of the court cards? The joker?
If it’s a very old deck, might it be a Tarot deck? I’ve heard that that was originally a set of playing cards. Would it be apropos here? After all, in the Tarot, there’s the Hierophant, not to mention the Devil. And there are people-cards among the minor arcana.
In any case, it’s a solid story, well grounded in its subgenre. Best of luck in finding a home for it.