|Art by Keith Negley|
"The Freedom of Navid Leahy" by Jenna Helland (7592 words)
This is a fairly straightforward middlegrade second world fantasy. The setting is one of oppression, with the cottagers living under the thumb of the Zunft, the elite who keep the cottagers without rights. Navid is an eleven-year-old boy cottager who is in the middle of a fairly sticky situation, one that he doesn't even fully grasp, with his father a moderate voice among calls to rebel, to openly fight against the oppression at hand. There is a movement that Navid and his family are on the fringes of, a movement for freedom that Navid treats partly as a game despite the deadly-real implications of it. Amid this is Navid's sudden dispute with a former friend because Navid's father doesn't want to fight, and amid all that is a sort of fable of the greatest of the cottagers and his struggle against a giant. The writing moves well, weaving together these elements into a cohesive whole, and there is a growing tension and ugliness to it, Navid discovering that his world is not one for childishness. For a middlegrade story I would definitely read more, especially because the ending leaves things rather open, with Navid's role in the coming struggle a bit in question. And the story brings up a lot of complicated issues, from the nature of struggle to who pays for freedom, though things are kept rather shallow with the promise of more depth locked away for now. Still, it does show a lot of promise, and the setting is rather interesting, dirty and filled with shortcuts and secret ways almost made for children. A fine story.
"Points of Origin" by Marissa K. Lingen (5849 words)
This is another story primarily concerned with children, but instead of being from the point of view of a child, it's from the point of view of an octogenarian couple who find themselves, after a lifetime of being childless, to be in charge of their genetic offspring, refugees from an economic collapse. It's a story of difference and adjusting, both the children to a place they don't really want to be and the grandparents to the children they didn't really want. Now I'm not a huge fan of people being forced to have children and then finding out it's a great thing, and there is a small amount of that going on, but mostly it's people dealing with things they never wanted and making the best of it. It's a story about not wanting to betray oneself, about wanting to retain a bit of yourself in the face of drastic change. It's about children and it's about change. I like the subtle hand the story uses to approach this situation, and it is rather sweet in the end. There's a bit more going on than there seems at the surface, but it's still a rather straightforward story, with everyone getting used to everyone else. It's nice to see a story star some elderly characters, and present a rather slow and more ponderous tale. It fits the season a bit, I suppose, with the emphasis on family, those that you choose and those that you make the best of. Not bad at all.