|Art by Kat Weaver|
“Report on the Wren Queen’s Dementia” by Rhonda Eikamp (4670 words)
No Spoilers: This is a strange and gutting story that takes place slit between two narratives that link in the end. The first is the story of a woman who has lived through a time when people had birds that were bonded to them, that would occasionally show up and, through dreams, tell a person what they had to do. For her, this mostly worked out, and for a great many people it worked out. But for her son, it didn’t. And this parallels the other narrative, where a woman, an artist, finds that she is pregnant, and the man she’s with tells her she needs to get rid of it in order to stay with him. Both branches are emotionally fraught, both difficult and full of landmines for unsuspecting feels. And they both create a sense where dream might be bleeding into reality, where pain cycles into pain.
Keywords: Birds, Family, CW- Suicide, CW- Pregnancy/Abortion, Dreams
Review: I find the way the two different narratives feed into each other is rather wrenching, the woman in the pregnancy story essentially coming to birth the bird that will whisper into the other woman’s son’s ear that he has to kill himself. All of it twisted and heavy and difficult. And even as one might lead directly to the other, the two might also represent something of branching stories, where in the one the woman decided to keep the pregnancy but still ended up losing the child so much later. The birds, too, might act as kinds of metal health, where for the son his bird is not something that visits every so often, but is his constant companion. And there’s really nothing that can be done at that point. The mother tries everything, tries rationalization and logic, tries vigilance and censure. But in the end it doesn’t prevent what happened. And it’s a difficult thing to read because who is the villain, then? The bird? The son? The system? Complicating matters further is the title, which implies not only that this might be coming from the same person, the same source, but that it might be unreliable as well. That this might be something a little mixed up. And certainly it’s strange and it has the air of a dream at times, perhaps as a coping mechanism to cover trauma. But whatever the case it’s a beautifully harrowing experience, a story very much worth spending some time with, and a great read!
“Wite Cro” by Natasha C. Calder (2800 words)
No Spoilers: Told in a thick vernacular dialect, this story stars Cro, a crow, a bird who feels like he never gets the respect he deserves at the bird parliament, where the “winner” of the parliament gets to take away the tribute all the birds bring with them. Cro has never won, and is often scorned because of his white feathers and his lack of a life mate. The second, at least, seems like something he can change, and he vows that he’ll get a life mate and bring them to the next parliament, so that he can finally be declared the winner. The piece is strange, a sort of oral or spoken myth. A trickster story, though in this iteration it’s Cro that gets tricked. It’s quite fun, though, for all that there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to getting into the dialect and making sense of it. It’s actually probably best spoken, and it has a nice rhythm and a strange, slightly tragic, but fitting ending.
Keywords: Birds, Crows. Foxes, Tricks, Wagers
Review: I will admit that the story was kinda tricky to read, especially because I wasn’t in a place where I could say the words out loud, something that otherwise helped me understand what was being said. But I do rather like the effect, because it has the feel to me of something spoken, something told. Which makes it rather fitting, because it’s about a parliament where the birds all tell something. Where they say their bit. And so not only is that the feature of the story, it can be read as what the story is engaging in doing, as well. That the story is the author or the speaker’s entry into a kind of parliament. Not one that we all acknowledge, but one that exists for writers all the same, where there is a limited amount of awards and Best of nods. And in that way then Cro is sort of an author trying to figure out how to win, how to be popular, how to win the awards. And he’s told generally how, like many writers are told generally how. And it goes terribly wrong, as sometimes happens when authors try to take advice about how to be popular and win awards. Trying to force that, and going out looking for some way, any way, to make that happen, might open the author, as it did Cro, to predators looking for just this kind of desperation. That might be unscrupulous and predatory publishers or editors or agents, but whatever the case, the result is a disaster, mourned perhaps but not in a way that the author, that Cro, can ever really appreciate. And I really like that lens to look at the story, that it’s making a somewhat meta point on storytelling and trying to force something that shouldn’t be forced. Not that Cro couldn’t be upset about not getting awards, especially because it’s based in part on his color (though there are perhaps some uncomfortable parallels where this reading falls apart because saying whiteness is unvalued isn’t true in our world). But that chasing after tribute and acclaim can be just a losing game, especially if what you “have to do” doesn’t come naturally and put you in a dangerous place. An interesting read!
“Shaman” by Damien Mckeating (1889 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a shaman, a spiritual leader of their people, who have had to leave their homes because of increasingly bad winters in search of somewhere greener. The journey, though, is rather brutal, and even as the narrator is able to see the path ahead by communing with the sacred raven, there are storms and other obstacles in the way, as well as some simmering strife within the people to contend with. The piece captures a rather epic, quasi-historical feel, placing itself within time and geography at the end but nicely vague otherwise, a mythic tale of movement and reaching for a new land and new hope.
Keywords: Ravens, Dreams, Storms, CW- Child Birth, Sacrifice, Journeys
Review: The piece certainly does a nice job of evoking historical mass immigration while painting in rather broad strokes. There is a sense of danger, and magic, as the narrator tries to get his people where they’re going. Not all of them make it, and I think that’s where I kept on running into an almost surprise at how big a group this must be. Not just a little community of a few dozen but more than that. Because a lot of them die, and continue to die as time goes on. I like the way the religious/spiritual elements are brought in, though, and the visions that the narrator experiences. I also like that there’s a bit of acknowledgment that he’s not always maybe 100% telling the truth. Not that he’s lying, but that he’s aware that he’s responsible for making those things true, rather than them being passed to him somehow religiously. When he declares a successor, he does so because he knows that he can make it happen, and he knows that the people need something hopeful that they can latch onto. So it’s not a lie, but he doesn’t seem to know ahead of time this was going to happen. More like he saw an opportunity and ran with it, which seems to be half of his power anyway. He’s canny, and the story shows him doing what he has to in order to see his people where they need to be. It’s sweeping, it’s fun, and it’s certainly worth checking out.
“Kairo’s Flock” by Avra Margariti (4100 words)
No Spoilers: This story takes an interesting, fresh, and slightly horrifying twist on the story of Icarus, revised her to be Kairo, a young man alone on an island where he used to raise falcons with his father and grandfather. His grandfather died, though, and his father... well, his father had some rather extreme ideas when it came to surgical modification. Now alone, Kairo must deal with his trauma, with his dreams, as he follows his own red thread toward a future where maybe he can live. Where maybe he can stop hating his body. The work is familiar in a very general sense, the imagery at least that of bulls and labyrinths and the like. Kairo has a messed up relationship with his father, and with himself, and so it’s also the story of surviving, and guilt and shame, and finally maybe acceptance.
Keywords: Wings, Family, CW- Abuse, Body Modification, Dreams
Review: This issue has leaned heavily on dreams, and especially the ones I’ve looked at in this post. And this story certainly uses dreams to great effect, making them the space where Kairo confronts his demons. His fears. His father. His father who altered him, gave him wings he didn’t want. His father, who then made Kairo alter him to give him those same wings. His father, who then died in the sea because he was too proud, too arrogant. And Kairo, poor Kairo, abused and changed and dealing with his guilt for hating his body, for hating his father, for being alive. The story captures beautifully and achingly his position, his fear, his despair. Because in order to escape his cage he needs to embrace the gift he never wanted. In order to live, he needs to come to terms with his father, stand up to him in a way he was never able to while the man was alive. Because he needs closure. Because he needs to put this behind, drop the weight that would other send him plummeting to his death. It’s such a powerful moment when he can fly, when he can deal with being scarred (in many different ways) but decide that he can still live, that he can still do something with his life. That he’s a man, powerful and beautiful and able to use his hands to soothe and to heal. For a boy who has mostly known and who has been made complicit in violation and alteration and hurting, it’s a liberating moment to reject his father’s vision of him, the role he was meant to inhabit. He shrugs it off, and finds a new home, or at least a new journey that he’s in no rush to build a labyrinth around. A fantastic read!
“City of Wings and Song” by Sara Norja (3800 words)
No Spoilers: In the city of Mereveh a new fad, started by the king, has seen a sudden boom in bird sales. Birds in sages that have been magically spelled to compel the birds to sing at all times. The magic? Taken from that which kept the flood waters from overrunning the lower city. So that now the city is filling with the wealthy and their ignorant affluence, the poor and their flooded homes, and the birds, enraged at their treatment. It’s a powder keg, and one that Talirr walks into rather not knowing what to expect. But they’re a songwalker, a person who can understand bird sog, and the birds are not quiet about what’s happened. Neither are the people who have been dealing with flooded homes and businesses. And it’s on Talirr to figure out a way to open the cages, the literal ones and the metaphorical. It’s a fun piece, an adventure of a poet and bird friend against the whims of a king.
Keywords: Birds, Songs, Cages, Magic, Non-binary MC
Review: I like how the story frames itself as essentially the song of Talirr, the song they sing of their time in Mereveh, listening to birds and trying their best to set things right. And I love that the core issue here is affluence, is corruption, is that the king thinks only of himself because he’s only ever had to think of himself. That in some ways he’s immune to the kind of empathy that would make Talirr’s job so much easier. Though that’s not to say he’s immune to every kind of persuasion. And I like that everyone around Talirr is requesting that they fix this, that they figure it out. To the birds they are just a tool to be used to break the cages. And Talirr goes along with that because, well, because the birds are loud and because they do have empathy, do care about the suffering of others. And so they do what they can without really having a plan to carry it out. All they can think to do is tell the truth. And here I feel that it’s so important to note that really the truth is Talirr’s only weapon this entire time. Their truth as expressed in song. They hope at first that a direct appeal will work, that if the king feels what the birds feel, he’ll stop wanting them to be caged. But again, that’s the wrong truth. The right truth is that the king stands to lose everything if he persists. That the people might rise up. That the birds might find a way to fight back. It’s entirely selfish but it’s what works and I like that twist, that it’s not the king’s conscience that carries the day but his greed, just redirected. Which is a clever and fun way to steer the story, subverting the kind of moral fairy tale it almost seemed like where the king is either shown to be decent but misguided or punished for being wicked. Here the king is hardly reformed, but he’s also not punished. It’s a nice and subtle touch that I appreciate. And it’s a great way to close out the issue!