I’ve seen Sunset Mantle described a few places as an epic fantasy squeezed into a novella’s binding, but that’s not quite right. There is little-to-no magic. It is told from a single perspective and has two real characters. And the story is focused on a single location.
Which is not to criticize Sunset Mantle in any way. It is very good at what it is. It’s just that that’s not quite epic fantasy.
Cete is a warrior without a cause, honored and exiled by his clan at the same time when he killed his own lord to protect him from the “madding,” a perhaps supernatural berserker rage. He comes to the Reach Antach in search of work as a fighting man, and finds a beautiful mantle and a beautiful seamstress and more fighting than he ever wanted. He also finds a Reach doomed by city clans determined to keep it under their thumb, and willing to do so by whatever means necessary.
Sunset Mantle has some exceptional battle scenes, most especially the great, final battle at the end you know is coming. But what really drives the story is drama of a different sort—legal drama. Not actual courtroom drama, for the most part, but a cat-and-mouse game as Cete seeks to act and react to his enemies within the law and custom of his people. A law and custom so strong it can bind without legal action. It’s a difficult balancing act. Notwithstanding the dry subject matter to those who aren’t legal nerds like me, it brings some of the same challenges as magic. The writer can either info-dump all of the rules up front or risk the perception he is writing rules to justify the needs of the plot. Reiss threads the needle, keeping real tension in the story.
Sunset Mantle proves fantasy, epic or not, need not stretch over multiple volumes. The short novel/novella had largely died; let’s hope Sunset Mantle is a herald of its return.