Review #28: Stem, Stone, and Bone by Deb Taber

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Aug 8, 2010 in Reviews

Author Website: http://www.inkfuscate.com/
Published by: Fantasy Magazine, August 2nd, 2010

stonePhoto by Jurvetson Creative Commons

The Story:

Jacinta has spent her days working in the cocoa groves of Venezuela since she was a child, collecting the beetles that hatch from the trees and slicing off their legs and proboscises with a little knife attached to her thumb. The lifeless beetles resemble beans, and the world is not ready or willing to think otherwise. There was a time when the children would go out and race beetles in the evenings as their parents got drunk on the black, blood wine of their harvests. But those times are gone now. There are no children being born in the Shining City anymore. The women only give birth to dull, lifeless stones, and life is changing all around them.

The Craft: 20 Master Plot – Metamorphosis

SPOILERS

This is such a lovely metamorphosis story since there are so many levels of change. Life and death, childhood to adulthood, stone to stem to bone to stone. But the cycle is broken, and Jacinta is worried about her future and that of the Shining City.  With no children being born, there will soon be no one left to harvest the beetles. Already there are no nimble-bodied little ones to pick up the cocoa beetles that have slipped to the ground.

Jacinta gave birth to a stone once, and not even a pretty one. Now, this world of hers is falling apart — dogs are giving birth to gemstones and caterpillars fall to the earth and become seeds. Jacinta gets it fixed in her mind that she wants to become a mother again, and since none of the men she knows would curse her with the pain of bearing another stone child, she goes into the city and tricks a man into impregnating her. Again she goes through the metamorphosis of motherhood, bearing a stone, but it is her stone, her child, her love, and her emotional journey is fulfilled.

There’s so much awesome in this story, I don’t even know where to start. The writing was superb, and the story sucked me in with its inventiveness and fully fleshed out world. The characters had depth, and I could easily feel for Jacinta’s plight. It’s simply a beautiful story, beautifully executed.

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Review #26: Violets for Lee by Desirina Boskovich

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Aug 3, 2010 in Reviews

Published by: Fantasy Magazine, July 19th, 2010

Photo by Keven Krejci Creative Commons

The Story:

A woman who’s good at losing things runs out of sugar while baking a cake for her sister’s birthday. She’s determined to find some, so she sets off shoeless and with a measuring cup in hand, asking neighbor after neighbor until she comes to the house of an old woman with a giant, bleeding heart in her backyard.

The Craft: 20 Master Plots – The Quest

SPOILERS

I almost skipped over this story, because after reading the first couple paragraphs, I was thinking “how interesting could a story be about a woman who goes on a quest to find a cup of sugar?” Well, the answer is very. Typical of Quest plots, this story starts off with the character at home. She’s forced to venture outside out of the necessity of finishing a birthday cake for her sister — her sister’s first birthday since being dead. So her quest is more than just about the sugar, but it’s an emotional quest to deal with the loss of her sister, as well.

She hits up neighbor after neighbor, but no one seems to have the sugar she’s looking for. Finally, she’s sent to Miss Harriet’s house, an older woman who’s lonely, and stalls while finding the sugar just to have company a little longer. Right as the main character starts to contemplate stealing the sugar bowl sitting so obviously on the counter, Miss Harriet asks her if she’s come for the heart. Out in her backyard sits a giant bleeding heart that fills the sky. The character climbs up and into it, pushing through tight flesh and bloody viscera, searching for the heart’s center. Her quest for sugar quickly is replaced by the physical manifestation of her own broken heart and her need to deal with the loss of her sister.

This story is a very touching one, one with great details, descriptions, and high emotional stakes. Halfway through, I went from leaned back in my chair, to sitting with my nose inches from my screen. (I love when a story makes me do that!) The ending has wonderful imagery of the center of the heart being like a child’s tent, a safe place that reminds the main character of all those times spent with her sister in small, intimate spaces — blanket forts in sunny rooms and reading fashion magazines under the covers with flashlights. We feel her heartache and understand her decisions, and I’m glad I kept reading what started off as a simple quest for sugar.

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Review #25: Perhaps this is Kushi’s Story by Swapna Kishore

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Aug 1, 2010 in Reviews

Author website: http://swapnawrites.com/
Published by: Fantasy Magazine, July 26th, 2010

Photo by Rosa y Dani Creative Commons

The Story:

Twin sisters, the eldest destined to marry the Headman’s son and lead their tribe and the younger resentful of that fact, listen to a story as told by their wise, old Tribemother. In the story, Kushi, a young healer apprentice finds herself caught between the will of her gods, the safety of her tribe, and her own morality.

The Craft: 20 Master Plots – Temptation

MAJOR SPOILERS

So of course my first 20 Master Plots story would have a frame narrative, but both stories are tales of temptation. I loved Younger Sister’s voice, how she kicked over her Elder Sister’s sandcastle without remorse, and then wanders off for awhile since it would take time for her sister to rebuild anything worth kicking again. Younger Sister gladly would have given into her temptation of crippling her sister if it hadn’t been for Tribemother stepping in and telling Kushi’s story.  But since the bulk of the story is about Kushi, I’ll analyze her temptation.

Kushi’s temptation comes in the form of gods whispering for her to kill her tribemate Bataar in order to protect her village. This is a tough decision for Kushi to make. People are dying because of Bataar’s ill-will, though Kushi is hard pressed to prove it. Kushi decides that she cannot kill because it would be immoral, even if it will protect Bataar from killing again. Her inaction results in the death of their Headman. Kushi directly accuses Bataar in front of her tribe and puts herself at risk. Her temptation had blinded her to better options for dealing with the situation, and as a result, she becomes exiled from her people.

Both tales are interesting with high stakes and good tension. I found myself wishing there was more to Younger Sister’s story though. Her character was so deliciously wicked that I wanted to experience her temptations directly. I was less engaged with Kushi, though I did like how each sister was given the opportunity to end the story. So who’s story is this? Perhaps this is Kushi’s story, but then again, perhaps not.

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