Tomb of the Amazon Queen is the longest of the eight finalists and the largest is scope. It reads like part of a much larger work. Nishi and her adopted daughter/fellow adventurer Miri have a number of problems. One, they are constantly hunted by the soldiers of the temple of Ishtar, because Nishi attacked it some time in the past. Two, Nishi is bound by a curse of some sort to a fearsome beast - The Manthycore - and this curse keeps her alive, making her a legendary being. But Nishi is seeking a way to end the curse. In the midst of a sandstorm, they take refuge with a group of Amazon-ish women warriors, whose path inevitably brings them all together at the tomb of their queen.
Both the story hook and the adventure hook are brilliant and engaging. The story begins in the middle and moves forward from there. Having taken out a party of temple soldiers, Nishi summons the Manthycore to feed and to frighten the one soldier she has allowed to survive, so that he can return and warn the temple to stop sending soldiers to hunt her.
The setting, ancient Iraq and Syria, is wonderfully depicted, with plenty of historical detail. As with most desert stories, the environment plays a direct role in the plot, when a sandstorm drives Nishi and Miri to take shelter with, and thus meet and befriend, a band of Amazons.
Nishi and Miri are great heroic characters - Nishi the old warrior who has lived for hundreds of years and become a legend, and young Miri, who is a talented archer. Less well-defined are the Amazons - seven archetypical sisters whose names tended to blend together as I was reading.
There is mayhem aplenty, with several good battle scenes in just the right doses. The action breaks up long periods of narrative in which we learn about the characters, their relationships, and their goals. And although there is only one monster - the Manthycore - and he physically appears only once in the story, his prescence is throughout, driving the plot.
If there is a weakness in the three M's (monster, mayhem and magic), it is the magic of the story. There is the curse bond between Nishi and the Manthycore, which keeps Nishi alive and allows her to heal more quickly, and the magical quest of the rubies that Nishi has undertaken to break the curse, but all of the magical moments seem to occur offstage. It's a subtle magic, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I'd have liked to see a bit more of it.
The catharsis is pretty good, with a sense of loss and regret, but the ending felt hurried and was the weakest part of the story, as neither the conflict nor the curse is resolved. In this it is a realistic ending, but it doesn't deliver as strongly as a tighter ending might. As lengthy as this story is, I felt it should have been longer, as the final potential conflict between Nishi and the Amazon ends somewhat anticlimatically. If Tomb of the Amazon Queen is part of a longer work, I can understand why, but it was this very feeling of an incomplete, unrealized ending that prevented me from selecting this otherwise worthy tale.
Update: Michael tells us that his story is part of a larger tale, The Tears of Ishtar, which just came out last Friday from Cyberwizard Productions' Ancient Tome Press.