|Art by Julie Dillon|
"On Freedom of Agency and the Finding of Lost Hearts" by Ken Scholes (4338 words)
This is the story of Shayna, a woman who works as a sort of indentured thief for a demon. It's an interesting setup, an interesting bit of world building, with wizards and gods and demons and yet with enough of a twist on the classic fare that it seems unique, different. The story itself sees Shayna being sent out to retrieve an item, an item that turns out to be the heart of the god of love, that allows the wearer to command the hearts of others. The current owner, a notorious ruler who was overthrown by the combined might of the wizards and demons, turns out to not really want it any more. After two thousand years of waiting, he seems quite eager to part with it. Because Shayna is one of a very few immune to the item's effects. Which means that she has a lot to think about, if she will take the item, if she will deliver it to her master, if she will keep it for herself. It's a story of choosing freedom over the chance at power and dominion. I like the character of Shayna, practical and immensely at home in the strange situations that pop up around her. Even in the face of the gods she remains rather calm and collected. Her competence sees her through, which wraps the story up nicely, giving it a sense of resolution while pointing toward a world on the verge of change that she helped bring about. A fun story.
"Grandmother-nai-Leylit's Cloth of Winds" by R.B. Lemberg (14074 words)
Well this is a long but very good story about self-determination, about transition, about making a choice. In it, a young woman, Aviya, grows up without magic. It puts her at a disadvantage, as magic is used for trading purposes, for many thinks. And Aviya has a brother, then a sister, because in this culture a boy who cannot enter into the men's world becomes a girl, and so the brother becomes a sister. They are not neurotypical, though, unable to really speak and obviously different in how they see the world. Aviya lives with her grandmothers, as in this culture a woman lives not with her husband but with her oreg-mates, her female lovers who raise children together. Until one of the grandmothers dies, leaving the one that sometimes dresses as a man and who has other quirks that set them apart. For all that this world is very different from the one live in, the build is amazingly done, the seams invisible and the story compelling. There is a lot going on this story, Aviya and her own lover, Getit, wanting to start trading and taking Aviya's sibling with them, only to be accompanied by the grandmother to a place of stories. Meanwhile the core of the story becomes about the grandmother, who isn't actually a grandmother but a grandfather, a man who was never really accepted by her oreg-mate. Trying to explain this is a a bit tricky, because of the pronouns involved, because in many ways the story is about the pronouns, about Aviya dealing with her own discomfort, with her own feelings surrounding her grandfather, her sibling, her lover. She's not comfortable with thinking of the person she's always known as a woman as a man. She's uncomfortable that pronouns can change, that her sibling isn't he or she. But with her lover's help she starts to understand, and instead of running away or shunning her grandfather, her sibling, she starts to see how to be with them, to help them, to put aside her discomfort and look to what is best for them and not most comforting to her. I loved the magic of the setting, the names holding power, because names and naming do have such power, because pronouns do have such power. That we at the same time have to be less invested in names that haven't been chosen by the person bearing them. It's a subtle story but a rich one with layers deep and moving. A complex and emotionally resonant story. Indeed!