The lovely thing about the larger word counts and focus on a single story that GigaNotoSaurus provides is that it gives some space to really dig into a piece. To really explore the boundaries of the settings and the characters and find something moving and unsettling and wonderful there. In that, the story this month is extremely suited to the publication, offering up a richly complex world and a set of characters that are engaging and deep. There are moments of action and magic and moments of quietude and friendship and at the end it’s a story about control and limitations and freedom and I will get right to reviewing it!
"Standing on the Floodbanks" by Bogi Takács (11,970 words)
This is an interesting and intricate story about limitations and about freedom. It focuses on two women with great magical abilities, though initially on two opposing sides of a war. And yet Oresuy, the High Mage of her nation, takes in Aniyé as her apprentice after finding Aniyé on a ruined battlefield. Under her original government, Aniyé was treated as little better than an animal, was treated as a weapon to be wielded without care of if she could control the power within her. Indeed, it was better that she not because then she shouldn’t have been able to live outside of their control. And yet Oresuy treats her as a person. With respect. And together they learn that governments might be pretty awful, but people are worth fighting for. It’s a lovely story with a strong emotional core wrapped in a complex fantasy situation of magic, politics, and corruption, and it’s one hell of a read.
[SPOILERS] To me the biggest theme I read throughout the story was of limitation. For Aniyé the magic that gives them power is actually too much for them to control. Perhaps if she had been taught from a young age, but instead it is an excuse to exercise control over her. When she is freed by Oresuy it is not freedom in the sense of a lack of limitations. Her magic can still burn her out. More than that, she takes comfort in being limited. In both the relationship of teacher and student that Oresuy offers to her and in her physical world, being comforted by being held and by having ribbons tied around her to limit her movement. Running parallel to the idea of limitation here, then, is consent. There is a stark difference between being limited against her will and through it. She chooses to be limited in certain ways, but at the same time she retains her ability to consent or deny, to give a yes or a no. And that kind of limitation within freedom is interesting and works incredibly well for me in understanding Aniyé as a character and seeing the differences between her relationship with Oresuy and how she would be used by the governments around her.
This also works for me into the building of the floodbanks, creating something to limit the destruction that the river could do and yet also finding ways to more safely release the pressure that is caused by the build up of water or tainted magic. Which also works into how the story reveals the setting and the governments, which I love mostly because neither “side” in the war is a “good” side. They both do some really awful things and they both want to use Aniyé in war. As a weapon. And it builds this world that feels very real, with nations in conflict both within and without, where only real currency is power, and I love that Aniyé is not made powerless here, is given agency and control of her own destiny, at least as far as is possible. The institutions that abound are corrupt, but not all the relationships are, and there is the shining gem that is the bond between Aniyé and Oresuy and it is beautiful and affirming and lifting. They really care about each other and it makes for a fantastic and compelling read. Definitely go check it out!