“Hungry Demigods” by Andrea Tang (12744 words)
This is a wonderful story about family, and about magic, and about all the things in between. It features Isabel, a Chinese-Canadian woman living in Montreal and working as a cook. Or, perhaps more accurately, living as a kitchen witch. Blind thanks to a bit of magic-gone-wrong earlier in life, she thrives with the help of her skills and her brother and mother. And it’s her brother, Dom, who brings a bit of a mystery into her life in the form of Elias, a young man with something of a curse on him and something of a monster on his heels. Only, it turns out, it’s not exactly a curse, and not exactly a monster. Of course, to find that out Isabel has to pursue the clues, even when it means confronting some things in her own past she was hoping to avoid. It’s a fast and very fun story that sings with fire and sugar, with notes sweet and savory.
And okay, so people who know me know I have a not-so-secret love of food-related SFF. This is a wonderful example, relishing in the sensory experience of taste and smell and feel. It defines a lot of Isabel’s life, the way she interacts with the world, with her various cultures, and with her family. Cooking becomes a way to think of the magic of the story, something that seems able to be learned by anyone but that carries with it the different flavors and styles of the places it comes from. It’s a way the story uses to make the magic both universal and very intimate, personal to the user and also showing how they approach the craft. Isabel’s own style is a blend of various different schools, but the way they blend reveals her as a person, not fitting into any one box, and trying through her exploration of magic and food to reach her furthest potential in both in a way only she can.
Similarly, the story does a great job of looking at family and the baggage that can come with them, the unwanted pressure and complications that can spring when parents try to force things on their children, or when parents retreat entirely and deny their children the benefit of their affection or guidance. Isabel’s relationship with her mother is fun and healthy, but her relationship with her father is messed the fuck up, and in exploring that, and Elias’ relationship with his own parents, the story begins to define how the past and the present meet inside a person. How we all carry a bit of the past in the shape of the legacy our parents give us, the stories and the customs and the pressures and the damage. All of it wrapped up in this inheritance that we then have to figure out how to spend. And the story does this amazing job of showing that children have to make up their own minds, have to own their identities and their lives. That they don’t owe their parents unhappiness of sacrifice, but rather a respect, where it’s earned and where it’s returned. It’s a complex but moving portrait of family and identity and I just love so much of what the story tackles and accomplishes. It’s a triumph of a read, run and fresh and delicious. Go read it!