Lee Yeongdo’s Over the Horizon is a fantasy novella. It is also the sole translated example of Yeongdo’s work that I could find.
Sheriff Yiphari may only be a small town sheriff, but when he learns of Professor Mataphi’s uncharacteristically pugilistic behavior, the orc instantly realizes there can only be one correct course of action: send his assistant Tyr out into the raging winter storm. Tyr is to walk twelve miles to the professor’s home and there demand an explanation.
Mataphi spins a tale of woe and violins.
Mataphi owns a Asrale Chieferti violin, a precious instrument whose value is equal to ten year’s income for an assistant sheriff. The sensible thing for a poor scholar like Mataphi to do would be to sell the violin and live on the proceeds but Mataphi sees the violin as his trust. Mere money cannot pry it away from him. Social obligation, on the other hand …
Recently Mataphi received a letter from an aristocratic elf named Horizon. Horizon has heard of Mataphi’s violin. Horizon and his retinue are headed to Mataphi’s little town. Horizon begs that he be given the opportunity to play the remarkable violin just once.
It would be unthinkable for Mataphi to refuse a gracious request from a social better. At the same time it would be unthinkable to give Horizon what he wants. The elf is notorious across the empire for his effect on musical instruments. Any instrument Horizon plays is physically unchanged, but the music it produces is henceforth soulless and uninspiring. To allow Horizon to play the Asrale Chieferti violin would be to allow the elf to murder the poor violin.
Tyr proposes a number of solutions, from roughing up the elf to simply selling the violin to someone of sufficient rank to say no to the elf. The professor rejects them all for various reasons: either they would violate the professor’s moral duty as protector of the violin or they wouldn’t work. Roughing up Horizon, for example, is unlikely to succeed. Before he became a master musician, the elf was a master duelist. Trapped by the iron rules of courtesy and logic, the professor can see no course of action but to dither until it is too late.
Tyr wasn’t always a junior functionary in an isolated little town. He’s just the fellow to deal with a Gordian knot. If the elf cannot be driven off, if the professor will not say no and does not want to say yes, if the professor will not sell to mere hobbyists but knows of no musician worthy of the instrument, there still remains one bold gambit that will please almost everyone: Tyr can simply steal the violin, sell it, and live like a duke on the proceeds.
The prose in this novella is clumsy. I am inclined to blame the translator, whose name is not given. I was also somewhat put off by the overweening self-advertisement; close to a fifth of the ebook is taken up with descriptions of and pitches for Lee’s other works. The ads assure us that the works are widely beloved in Korea and Japan. The promotional materials are as quaintly phrased as the novella. I suspect the issue is, again, over-literal and clumsy translation.
Lee Yeongdo’s setting is in many ways a stock one, with the usual elves and orcs and humans. The various races live side by side under the benevolent Emperor. I was reminded of too too many roleplaying game settings. Where the setting deviates from the norm is in its treatment of imperial law, which both exists and is actually enforced. The Empire is not a friendly land for roving murder hobos or at least those murder hobos of low rank. Swords are strictly regulated and woe to those found in possession of weapons for which they do not have the proper permits.
Tyr is, of course, not nearly as devoted to law and order as is the Empire, although he’s willing to play the role of dutiful assistant for a time. Tyr arrived in town lacking transit papers. His current boss is willing to overlook that; Tyr’s willingness to overlook a few laws now and then has been an asset to the town. As one might suspect, Tyr is more than he appears at first. Over the course of the story we learn that a combination of bold innovation and poor judgment has led a former military fencing master to a humble existence as a junior functionary in a backwater town.
Despite the clumsy prose and hackneyed setting. I’d give one of Lee’s other books a try but … this is the only work of Lee’s that I could find in English translation.
If you have read this author in the original Korean and liked his work, tell me about it in comments.
Over the Horizon is available here (Amazon). I could not find it on Chapters-Indigo.