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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Review #9: Cory’s Father by Francesca Forrest

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Feb 7, 2010 in Reviews

Author Website: http://asakiyume.livejournal.com
Published by: Strange Horizons, February 1, 2010

The Story:

Willow’s Daughter has five children, each with a different father. She’s found love and lost it several times over, but that’s not all she’s lost — she’s in exile, trapped here in the world of hours and days while the sounds and sights and smells from across the border mock her. Over there is another world, and only a few possess the ability to cross back and forth freely. Like Vessy’s father. Willow’s Daughter used to tell her children stories of Vessy’s father, and of Fox’s father, and of Daisy’s father…but two of her children didn’t get father stories. One is the narrator, and the other is Cory…and Cory’s Father has a story that definitely needs to be told.

The Craft: Beginnings

SPOILERS (and excessive apostrophe use)

This story opens with the mundane — a weary mother who once told her children stories about their fathers when they needed cheering up. Except that two of the children didn’t get father stories. While this opening paragraph doesn’t hint at any particular genre, it definitely pulls the reader in with a strong question: “Why don’t the two children get stories?” Also, I’m wondering why the mother has so many different baby-daddies.

In the next few paragraphs, we learn that the narrator’s father was Willow’s Daughter’s true love. More importantly, we learn about Cory’s dad, who was just a twinkle in her eye, and though Willow’s Daughter won’t say much more on the matter, the narrator knows the true story of Cory’s father, the deal he made with their mother, and why she’s unable to see one of her children. Here, my genre antenna perks up. There’s something a bit odd about a woman who can only see four out of five of her children, especially when a “deal'” is involved. The tone of this has been established as the tale of a nameless, genderless child, a nice voice, though, which has a touch of honesty to it.

Next we get into the actually story of Cory’s father, which actually starts with Vessy’s father who is one of those few that can cross the border between here and there. Willow’s Daughter is currently pregnant with Vessy, and is vexed by the coming and going of the border which is something like a cloud’s shadow that looms and smells of sweet fern. It bothers her so, she neglects her children, leaving her older children to wrangle the younger. And then our narrator catches a stranger in Willow’s Daughter’s bedroom, a stranger who takes on the form of a large crow. They talk of here and there, and of the bargain Willow’s Daughter made — the one that exiled her. We’re clearly in a fantastical world now. There’s not a whole lot of setting or characterization, but there are a lot of questions that keep cropping up, and that’s what keeps the reader going, and quite effectively, I might add.

In fact, I wanted this story to keep going. The end sprung up on me suddenly, and although the story told me what it promised me (Cory’s Father’s story) I felt like I was left with a lot of questions that were never answered. Like what’s up with the narrator’s father’s story? What deal did Willow’s Daughter make to get her exiled? And what exactly is over there? To me, this felt like the first scene in a larger story, and I would love to see it continue.

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Review #3: The Wing Collection by Eilis O’Neal

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Jan 7, 2010 in Reviews

Author Website: http://www.eilisoneal.com
Published by: Fantasy Magazine,
January 4, 2010

The Story:

The Wing Collection is a delightfully creepy story about Emily and her cousin Jeffery, who has recently come to live with Emily and her parents. Jeffery is a bookworm, and Emily is decidedly not, but they put their differences aside after school one day when they come across a magnificent storefront that houses an impressive display of disembodied wings. The wings vary in size and type, coming from birds and bats and insects, including some suspicious specimens that belong to endangered species.

The wings become Jeffery’s obsession, though Emily tags along on their frequent trips to the shop, not sure what to make of her cousin and his odd behavior. She takes it easy on Jeffery though, since he’s dealing with recent abandonment issues, but when his reading habits shifts suddenly to the occult, Emily decides she can no longer let Jeffrey keep his secrets to himself.

The Craft:
SPOILERS

Reading this story is like opening up a series decorated gift boxes, each one bigger and more mysterious. Its characters are both approachable, and I enjoyed seeing Jeffery through Emily’s eyes and I shared in her interest to find out what made her strange cousin tick. The stakes rise constantly in this story, starting off with the odd store and its even odder owner. Then when Jeffrey gets the idea to start dabbling in magic, suddenly the sky is the limit, and the anticipation of what’s to come really builds.

The importance of physical objects stood out to me in this piece: the postcards, the feather, the books. Each packed a lot of emotion to be such small things, and it’s obvious how important they are to the characters. I think this physicality came into play in the absence of emotional relationships between the characters. Emily was on the verge of connecting to Jeffery as a real person with her almost accepting him as family, but I got the sense that Jeffery was too focused on finding his mother to reciprocate that feeling.

I think the ending worked for me, as ambiguous as it was. It disappointed me some as I read, but after pondering it for a day, it’s starting to grow on me. The image of the postcards is effectively repeated here, and the story’s focus shifts to Emily and her interpretations of what she meant to Jeffrey. She’s living in the aftermath of his disappearance, which has a direct impact on her own life, and still she keeps his secrets. It’s sort of sweet, sentimental, and deep in a way that encourages the reader to think through the story again.

If there’s one thing to learn from this piece (and there’s a lot more than one, but I’m just saying…) it’s how the author structures the scenes, building up suspense and mystery, then ending the scene on a tease. She shows us the pretty box, then lets us shake it, maybe take a peek, but you’ve got to keep reading to find out what exactly is inside.

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