|Art by Christopher Balaskas|
"Primaflora's Journey" by Cat Rambo (13081 words)
In a world where magical creatures are hunted and enslaved by a rather wicked Duke, Primaflora is a Dryad taken from her home and put into the Duke's menagerie. But for all that Dryads are prone to root, prone to not be violent, Primaflora is different, more stubborn, more active than most. She does not accept her captivity, and with the help of some of the other creatures in the menagerie manages to escape, only to find herself joining up with a resistance movement. One where she doesn't really know what she can do to help. She wants revenge, and yet she doesn't want to be a killer, to punish all humans because of what happened to her. She feels the need to root, but wants to do more, wants to help others. And toward that end she agrees to be part of a magical experiment of sorts. One that changes her fundamentally, into a weapon. It's a good story, the world-building solid and leaving a lot more to be explored, as it looks like this setting will be used in longer forms by the author. The character is fun and stubborn and has a very interesting journey. The story itself is rather a downer, though, because Primaflora loses her agency by trying to gain her revenge. Obviously it shows that seeking violent revenge can lead to such things, but it's not like Primaflora had many options, and trying to stop the humans from hurting her kind is reasonable here. But then, it's only the first glimpse into this story, into this world. And the idea that you shouldn't make yourself a tool of someone else's revenge and power is a good one. I just wish that it didn't put the resistance in the role of the villains at the end. But it's a fun (if incredibly dark) story with a lot of good moments. Well worth reading.
"Wild Things Got to Go Free" By Heather Clitheroe (9431 words)
A story about a village where some of the inhabitants change into something...wild, this one has a rather sad and tense feel to it. Like the last story, much of the conflict comes from the wild running up against the "civilized." In this case, the village is being occupied by soldiers who are trying to find those who are changing in order to capture them, in order to use them for their own purposes. For most of the story, just what these people are turning into is a mystery, though it seems to be a fairly common thing in the village. The action focuses on a family whose mother is changing. It's something that the husband had never really thought about, and that the daughters never knew about. But it's happening, and apparently one of the daughters, Leah, is also going to change, though not for a long time. The story is tense, a potent mix of childhood fear and very adult violence. The soldiers want those that was changing, and don't seem concerned who they have to hurt to get them. The uncertainty that comes from not knowing what the soldiers are there for, what's happening to the people who are changing, not knowing what the soldiers will do to get what they want; all these things contribute to a story that had me reading doggedly on and on, wanting to know what happens. And when the reveal comes it is big. It is big and bloody and satisfying, and it's also a bit unsettling, because the soldiers might be defeated but they aren't gone. And the future of the sister's, now possibly orphans, is by no means certain. But that wildness that has crept into them, that will (in my mind) manifest as open resistance to whatever power sent the soldiers, is a powerful one. They have seen things, injustice and wild power and that makes them dangerous. It makes them powerful even without that magical power of transformation because they already stand transformed, deep down. They are no longer children, though they are still young. It's a nice look at what war can do, what occupation can do, and though it offers no glimpse of what will happen, that open ending is powerful and well done. A very nice story.