November's issue marks the last of 2016 for Fireside Fiction and it closes the year with equal measures joy and sorrow. Rather a fitting end to a very conflicting year, certainly. The stories all evoke the past in different ways, whether by spinning a tale laced with an older-style adventure or settling into grief and loss looking back on life or fitting characters into a tradition that has been going on since there have been roads crossing. These are incredibly different stories, but they share certain links beyond that they appear in the same space. They all create complex characters concerned with family and with place. With tradition and complicating tradition, putting their own twist on what has come before. And, of course, they are all quite good. So yeah, to the reviews!
|Art by Galen Dara|
"Dragon Soap" by M.K. Hutchins (4799 words)
This is a rather charming story about Maisy, a young woman who finds herself in a bad situation when her brother, after following her on an ill-advised dragon hunt, gets an illness that can only be cured by washing with a special soap. A soap that only one person in town sells. And I love how the story sets up the economy of this place, the rural reality that Maisy and her family live in. It's a situation defined in many ways by hardship, by poverty, as Maisy is forced to kill dragons to sell to the only person in the town who seems to be doing exceptionally well. It's a cycle of inequality where the rich get richer and the poor, poorer, and it's nicely complicated with the fantasy trappings of dragons and flies that enjoy their blood and inflict people with an illness that resembles dragon scales. And I further just like Maisy as a character, her pluck and her determination to do right by not just her family but the larger community and the larger world. While her Gran might be the curmudgeonly voice expected of someone living in this situation, Maisy shows more compassion, and shows a more keen eye towards justice. It's a fun story with a fairly straight forward trajectory but solidly plotted and engagingly crafted. The story moves with a purpose and a compelling tone and prose that evokes older adventure stories from the rural South but with a few much-appreciated twists. And in the end it's a story that got me to smile and wish there were more adventures starring Maisy and her family. A fine read!
"Paperclips and Memories and Things That Won't Be Missed" by Caroline M. Yaochim (741 words)
This is a rather devastating story about ghosts and about loss. About taking and about collecting. The story features a trio of ghosts: the main character, an older woman named Margie, and a premature infant named Gavin. And wow, yeah, this is probably not the thing to read if you're looking for a laugh, and after the previous story it's a rather abrupt shift in tone but it's also a very deep and layered story about the cost of taking things from others. Trigger warnings for loss of a child and suicide. In the world that the story reveals ghosts can take things, and the things the ghosts take the living lose. Not just physical things, either, but also memories and tragedies and joys. It makes for a rather tenuous balance that must be maintained, that the ghosts strive to meet, because the main character, at least, knows what happens when you try to help and what happens when you try to hurt and so attempts to take things that won't be missed. The story is heavy with emotions and regret. As a story about ghosts it's fitting, perhaps, that there are many kinds of hauntings here. That the ghosts haunt the living, yes, but that they are in turn haunted by those same people. Because the living are reminders of what they have lost. What they might have had. And it's an intricate portrait of what loss can do to someone, and the care and compassion that can linger after death, where these three ghosts are trying to find some way to coexist, each other reaching for something that they can't have and yet in that reaching taking a certain amount of comfort in each other. It's a rather difficult story and certain not the cheeriest of reads, but it's definitely worth checking out!
"Sometimes the Crossroads Come to You" by Mikki Kendall (1132 words)
This is a story about bargains, about deals. And about those who are authorized to make them. And the story follows an interesting progression, from future to past, from science fiction to something more like fantasy. It's a story that begins with a person trying to gain access to a time travel device so that they can keep an important meeting in the past. The story, like the first, has a great sense of purpose and movement to it. The main character does not spend any time on self-doubt or hesitation. When they act, they act, and in the face of insults or the potential of failure they just sort of roll their eyes and step forward. And keep stepping forward. I love the way the magic works here, too, because it transcends time in such a great way, that it links people not only going backward but forward as well. That it posits these people who have always been waiting at the crossroads. Not demons. Not really. But people with power who are able to make things possible. For a price. And I like that, the sense that this is old and orderly, that there are rules but also that it reveals a side of things that I don't often see, which is the perspective of the person offering the bargains. Most of the time depictions of these characters makes the station a punishment. They are there to tempt humans and then to punish them. But here we see something much different, that there is a sense of exploration here, and stepping into something that feels right. The character seems to have been on this path for a long time, and knows that no one will like them for their choice to take this role, but it's one they want, one they like. And there is such an affirming power to that, that they are able to reach out and take what they want, that there is a price but they are glad to pay it to be able to fulfill their dream. That they aren't a demon, just a person who knows that power isn't free. So yeah, it's a wonderful piece and an excellent read!