|Art by Jereme Peabody|
"The Thought That Counts" by K.J. Parker (8702 words)
No Spoilers: A man with a name lost to a string of cons and crimes arrives at a new city in hopes of selling a book and maybe unlocking the secret to an artificial blue paint. What he ends up doing instead is getting involved in a trial of a woman accused of somehow killing a large number of rich and powerful personages around town. The piece moves quickly thanks in part to the charming voice of the narrator, who is part philosopher but mostly a con man who seems drawn to trouble like a moth to flames. And in picking up this case he also gets the chance to examine his origins, and the reasons why he can never seem to settle. Fun, sinister, and clever, the piece fills this fantasy setting with an interesting mix of mundane and magical dangers.
Keywords: Trials, Law, Murder, Magic, Love, Con Man
Review: The narrator is a rather interesting choice for the viewpoint of this piece, because he's established very early as being rather unreliable. As well as famous. The piece teases his true identity, too, in a way that builds up this idea that he's a household name while never really having to face that the readers will have no idea who he is or what his history is. Instead, we're given enough to know that he's a Big Deal but in a rather complex way, and I appreciate that the piece doesn't get bogged down trying to sell his specific (and extensive) back story. I also just like the voice of the piece, the way that he falls into this trial and the way that he makes his case. Mostly, I love the twisted nature of this, that he argues (successfully) that these crimes could not have been committed because magic has been declared fake. And yet, it turns out, that's not entirely the case. And how this trial intersects his own past is compelling and helps to bring more to light the character as a person rather than as an infamous outlaw. Mostly, though, I love how the story shows how he's his biggest enemy, always acting before fully thinking things through, and how that started this whole ball rolling. Not that he necessarily asked for any of this exactly, but that it is a life that best suits him, and one that (despite his protestations) he does seem to revel in. The ending hits nicely, showing this extended chase, extended game, and shows that for all he claims to hate what his life has become, he also rather loves it. And yeah, it's a fun read!
"Angry Kings" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (7724 words)
No Spoilers: Magritte is the daughter of a terrible king, a man who would punish the kingdom for perceived slights in her. This kind of abuse defined his rule, and caused Magritte to look for escape routes, ways to get away from the toxic cycle of anger and hurt that seems to infect not just her father, but the larger system of kings and daughters and the stories told about them. The piece for me engages with fairy tales and the weight of all the broken relationships between kings and their daughters. Locking them away in towers, selling them to foreign princes, treating them as only sources of pain or vessels of royal futures. And in some ways I feel like it shows how many fathers completely fail to know how to parent their daughters, so clouded are they by their own misogyny, hate, and entitlement.
Keywords: Fairy Tales, Royalty, Shadows, Witches, CW- Child Abuse, Anger
Review: This story really gets at the father-daughter relationship and, to me, how that relationship is portrayed in stories. Especially in fairy tales, where so many stories are about girls with dead mothers and distant fathers. Fathers who always seem to fail their daughters, to lock them up, to care only about their value as future mothers and queens and not as people. And it certainly seems to look at how these stories contribute to a reality where men often find themselves seeing their daughters very differently once puberty begins, how the obsession with women's purity leads to only hate and hurt. The piece is wrenching in how it shows the relationship between king and daughter, how at one point it was happy and joyful but that it became twisted. From the loss of Magritte's mother, yes, but also because of how the king placed his daughter's propriety above everything while allowing her no agency. And I love how the story reveals how he betrayed himself, his family, and his kingdom by buying into the idea of what a proper king and father looks like. How it poisoned him. And I love how Magritte refuses the cycle, refuses to adapt in order to fit into the stories. How she chooses instead to resist, even when it's hard. And really it's a moving story about cycles and the strength it takes to stand up to them. A fantastic read!