Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus August 2016
This month's offering from GigaNotoSaurus is probably the least speculative story I've read from the publication so far, but is still solidly a historical fantasy that blends adventure, intrigue, and just a hint of magic. In many ways it reminds me more of early weird fiction, set in a past where things seem historical but with just a bit of a twist. Some dark corner of the world that you can almost believe exists, though this story foregoes trying to frame itself as a found text. What it does, though, is fun and well paced, a mystery in a musty manor complete with hungry hours, suspicious servants, and creepy crawlers (some of whom walk about on two legs and are complete assholes). So yeah, to the review!
"Good Breeding" by Megan Chaudhuri (9985 words)
This is an interesting story, part historical fantasy, part espionage thriller, part old fashioned heist. In it, Lydia is a woman without a lot of options. Abandoned by her husband after getting pregnant and forced first to rely on morally conservative sisters and then her own skills as a thief to stay alive, Lydia fell in with a woman who seems to run a special kind of organization, a sort-of detective agency only…well, not quite so legal. Lydia is tasked with discovering the nature of a very peculiar bit of fabric, one that can stop a dagger thrust without worry. It takes her to a rather remote stretch of coast to try and uncover the truth of the matter from the seller of the cloth, by whatever means necessary. I like the feel of the world revealed here, mostly grounded in history with really the only speculative element being the true nature of the fabric, which is a nicely layered mystery to the end.
And as a mostly-historical piece, it's one that doesn't forget that Lydia's position as a woman in the time period, in the place, is one inherently perilous. I like that she's motivated by a mix of concern for her child and desire to get out of poverty for herself, to enjoy the lifestyle that she really only gets to pretend at. And her position is made all the more dangerous when her missing husband shows up at an associate of the man she's trying to steal from. Of course, everyone is living something of a double life in the story, and so there's plenty to complicate the plot. There's a few moments where the structure of the prose also diverges from the rest of the piece to good effect, drawing a fine point to the events unfolding, to the moment when Lydia makes her decision, where she begins to take control of her life.
[SPOILERS] Because, to me, the trajectory of the story is of Lydia finally seeing through the ghost of her past and owning her mistakes. Seeing that while she's not wrong to be passionate, to want nice things, to yearn for a better station, she married an asshole and that's one thing she doesn't need to be bound to anymore. The hope that he'll return is present in much of the story and it's one thing, with his continued duplicity and attempts at coercion, that she overcomes. And it's just really fun to see her in action, uncovering the facts and unraveling this mystery. Time and again she proves herself resourceful, confident, and competent. I like that she is able to admit that she's doing things for herself and isn't punished for it. That she's allowed her own agency and doesn't have to be continually rescued. It's a refreshing story, one that lets its speculative elements be more subtle as it concentrates on telling a compelling and entertaining tale of daring do and espionage in historical England. A nice read!