On the Brink

Author: SurgicalSteel

Nominator: pandemonium_213

2011 Award Category: Men: General - First Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Ficlet

Rating: Mature  ✧  Reason for Rating: Mature Language/Themes

Summary: Late Second Age Númenor: Ar-Zimraphel deals with the aftermath of an earthquake and her husband's chief counsellor.

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Reviewed by: Lyra  ✧  Score: 7

SurgicalSteel makes effective use of a B2MeM prompt in this ficlet. After one of the earthquakes that are mentioned in the "Akallabêth" as warnings sent to Númenor, Ar-Zimraphel discovers that a little glass statuette gifted to her by Ar-Pharazôn has broken. Her musings on all the things Ar-Pharazôn brought back from the same journey - the only one left now being Sauron - is very effective, and Sauron's appearance and words are chilling. His allusions to sacrifice of royalty, in particular, work very well as a hardly veiled threat to the queen, should she refuse to play along. I enjoyed that Ar-Zimraphel was depicted as a somewhat calculating and politically capable person rather than an innocent, doe-eyed girl who got sucked into the royal house more or less by chance. Much is said and more implied in this short but cleverly constructed piece.

Author response: Thank you, Lyra!

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 6

Interesting vignette focussing on the relationship between Ar-Zimprahel and [Zigur], otherwise known as Sauron. Surgical Steel conveys the intrigue and political aspects of the relationship between these two powers in Numenor, and the tension that rises as the queen's power begins to wane in Ar-Pharazon's absence and the Zigur is poised to take what remains. The reader knows that Numenor's time is running out; and there is a delicately written hint that the queen is beginning to understand it as well. A well-written exploration of this period in the history of Zimraphel as well as her world. I like the way that Surgical Steel has Sauron plant the seeds of the queen's eventual climbing of the Meneltarma; less a frantic attempt to escape her doom, but a deliberate embracing of it as a sacrifice to save her land.

Author response: Thank you very much!

Reviewed by: Altariel  ✧  Score: 6

A fascinating and chilling short piece recounting an exchange between the last queen of Númenor, and her husband's counsellor, here called the Zigûr. SurgicalSteel gives us a glimpse of a world coming to an end, before some of the main players perhaps realize that end is coming (and how!), but after some of the main decisions leading to the Downfall have been taken. I'm fascinated how SurgicalSteel chooses to foreground the name ["Zigûr"], the Wizard. Was this what gave the Valar the idea to send their own agents to Middle-earth? Are Men right to be suspicious of the motives of these powerful strangers? Meanwhile, the earth around the Queen is quaking, and a sacrifice is going to be made. A well-imagined and clever piece.

Author response: Thank you!

Reviewed by: Oshun  ✧  Score: 6

My head has been in GRR Martin's world enough of the time over the past year that when I re-read this short story with the intent of reviewing it here, I could not get out of my head those words from {A Game of Thrones}, {"in the game of thrones, you win or you die"}. I liked the gritty, political tone to the story and the storyline in general as you write it within your personal canon. There are not a lot of innocents running around in your story verse. The intrigue, manipulation, watching one's back, and questions of power are paramount. This character is no delicate little lady. The tension builds, power waxes and wanes and the Zigur is poised to win the game. We, of course, in this case know the ending. Numenor's days are numbered. But still, you are writing a political thriller! No spoilers here despite the fact that we are all aware of the end game.

Author response: Thank you, Oshun, I'm really flattered!

Reviewed by: pandemonium_213  ✧  Score: 6

This tightly written story is a very good addition to Steel's Second Age 'verse. One may assume that this is one of the final conversations (if not the final) between Ar-Zimraphel and her husband's chief counsellor, the Zigûr. She is picking up broken glass bird, a gift from her husband, now off on his quest to storm Valinor, leaving the queen with his power-hungry advisor. The tension thrums and rumbles in this short story, much like the temblors that shake Númenor. I very much like the story line derived from [The History of Middle-earth], that is, Zimraphel and Pharazôn wanted to marry, and that she is a co-ruler with him. Surgical Steel shows us this in a short fic. The Zigûr's suggestion of sacrifice apparently sparks an idea.

Reviewed by: obsidianj  ✧  Score: 3

Brr. Zigur is a nasty piece of work. Zimraphel is right. Pharazon should have dealt with him in a more permanent way. Leaving him behind was not a good idea. Just the way Zigur speaks makes me shudder.

Reviewed by: Adonnen Estenniel  ✧  Score: 3

The relationship between Zimraphel and Sauron is not one that I would have considered, and I think the author has done the scene justice. The queen's personality is well-defined here, as is her adversary's, though his is perhaps a little more ambiguous. Overall, a well-written piece of writing.

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 3

A very disturbing conversation between the last Queen of Numenor and Sauron, now called the Zigur-- I love the way that both of them are speaking with double meanings! It's a very nasty and disturbing conversation, and even now you can see the wheels turning.

Reviewed by: Himring  ✧  Score: 3

A thoroughly scary conversation with a sly, manipulative Sauron--but Ar-Zimraphel confronts him like the strong queen she is, according to Surgical Steel's version of Numenorean history.