Borderlands Act 1 by Charles Gull

6.5/10
Well-written, but overall unsettling and frustrating.
Borderlands Act 1 book cover

Charles Gull continues his series of loosely interrelated novellas centering on a war between the monster-fueled Realm of Chaos and humankind, with the war taking place on the Borderlands battlegrounds separating the two lands. These military fantasy stories each tell a different story, and so far, there are no characters that appear in multiple acts. As reader of each act, you gain a bigger perspective of the world at large, and a lot of what Gull does is interesting and commendable. However, this installment suffers in two distinct areas that left me unsettled and frustrated.

The book’s strongest point is the narrative first-person voice of Captain Doneir, who spends the story training his patrol harder and harder to try and achieve the highest ranked position. He’s a hypocrite, preaching that all his soldiers should care equally for each other, yet he’s secretly using them for his own selfish goals. He has daddy issues and wants to spite him while also trying to impress a girl. He’s a skilled leader but his motivations made me despise him. He was about to march scores of people to certain death out of sheer pride, and I was hoping he would get his comeuppance, or at least provide some arc resolution, but… the story just ends. And since I believe Gull does not plan to revisit any past POVs in future Acts, it was a frustrating finish. Perhaps we’ll revisit this story from another angle in the future, but as a standalone story, this comes up short.

Another aspect that left a sour taste in my mouth was the representation of women in the story. There were only two of them. Woman #1 is a barmaid who immediately eyes the Captain’s heavy purse, drops her neckline low, massages him, drugs him, and offers him sex, all while intoning she’s only after his money. Woman #2 is introduced completely naked, a willful sex slave to a lecherous relative, of which Gull spends five pages describing every pelvic angle or ‘elastic breasts’ or whatever the woman’s body was doing, before this pointlessly objectified sex toy scurries in bed and whines about wanting her man to hurry up so he can come keep her company. What was the point of this scene? Was it to show how lecherous this relative is for ‘owning’ this sex slave? If so, why are we subjected to five pages of inescapable play-by-play?

Gull writes with confidence; his trim and ordered prose echoes the military leads of his stories. The Borderlands setting is a fertile ground with many opportunities for exciting and powerful storytelling, but this novella misses the mark in a few important areas. Nonetheless, I get the sense that Gull has a larger goal in mind, so I’m hoping that these early Acts will eventually lead to something larger and more inclusive down the road.

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