Fantasy Magazine lives in this issue thanks to the support behind Lightspeed Magazine's People of Colo(u)r Destroy SF! It's time to destroy fantasy and this issue does a marvelous job of that, showcasing four original stories that feature themes of resistance and injustice, struggle and hope. These are stories to inspire, that look to the idea that change is possible, that those living under the burdens of injustice can get out, can help each other, and even if they can't destroy the unjust systems on their own, they can work to undermine their power. Chip away at the damage that they do. These stories are full of amazing characters and lots of magic, from a story of plague and dancing to one of bargains and marching. It's an incredible issue and I should just get to those reviews!
|Art by Emily Osborne
"Black, Their Regalia" by Darcie Little Badger (4100 words)
This is a story about music, friendship, sickness, and healing. About belief and about the supernatural. And about three friends and bandmates fighting against the forces of pestilence and kicking its ass through dance and song. The three friends: Tulli, Kristi, and Moraine, have all contracted the Big Plague, a super-virus that grown bigger and bigger and that kill nearly all of those infected within a year. The story opens on a plague train and I love the aesthetic of the story, that it's so permeated with death and darkness and shadows. There's such uncertainty and fear as they all know that they might die, that Kristi is already deteriorating faster than the rest of them, and yet the characters have such life to them. Instead of despair they maintain their spirits by joking, by talking. And when things start to happen that convince them that maybe there's something supernatural going on, they jump into it headfirst, trusting themselves and trusting each other. I love how the story is so weighty from the subject matter and yet feels celebratory. Where other stories might have decided to really dwell on the sorrow and the cynicism that could be associated with a likely-deadly prognosis, this piece refuses to stop smiling. And there's a great power in that, a power that they tap into. [SPOILERS!!!] Because of course they are able to overcome it. Of course they are able to vanquish the Big Plague. The story shows the…lightness of the dark. The joy of the shadows. That death isn't something to be frightened of but something to be respected. And yeah, that sometimes saving the world seems easy because you have friends to help and support you and a shared music to get through. An excellent read!
"The Rock in the Water" by Thoraiya Dyer (5500 words)
This story splits itself between two very different women coming out of very different situations, and yet the connection they share, the bond and the drive, carries a light through a very uncomfortable and wrenching tale. Yveline is an orphan forced to work for a smuggler, forced to cover up his crimes, and yet a chance encounter on a beach leads to a certain kind of freedom, a certain kind of safety. Su'ad is a young woman fleeing an oppressive regime who imprisoned her mother and forced her to flee with what little money she had…away. Just away. Hoping to land somewhere better but always forced to wait and wait and wait, until the thing she had always hoped to accomplish was impossible. The magic of the story comes from both tales, from the deal that Yveline makes, from the ghosts trailing in Su'ad's wake. And both women decide to fight in different ways, to try and help the people caught in these terrible situations, refugees who are abused every step of their journey, by the places they are forced to run from and by those they hope to find safety in. It's a difficult story but a beautiful one that shows how the characters seek to help as they can, and how ineffectual it can sometimes seem. That the magic cure is not really a cure, and that the "proper channels" are normally clogged and convoluted, so that for many there is no difference between dying in one place and dying in another. And fuck, yeah, it's not always the happiest of tales but it is one that faces the harsh injustices of international law and crisis and shows that the fight goes on. Even when it seems hopeless, these people fight, knowing they can't solve the root problem but hoping to someone else from becoming a victim, a statistic. It's a wonderful read!
"The Things My Mother Left Me" by P. Djèlí Clark(7400 words)
This story is a hell of a lot of fun. It features Tausi, a young woman who has just lost her father and is faced with the prospect of being "cared" for by a bunch of aunts who don't really want what's best for her so much as they want the house she's living in. So she decides to escape. To be free of them before they can marry her off. What she doesn't count on is that to do so she might have to dip into the legacy her mother left her, a legacy of magic that could get her killed by people terrified of that kind of power and prejudiced against those who wield it. And the story builds the setting effortlessly, a world of magic and broken moons, a world where Tausi is at risk because of who her mother was and because of the magic that flows through her. And because of that she must hide herself, must sanction herself. And this story also brings a great feeling of action and cleverness and life and freedom. The characters are vividly portrayed and Tausi is painfully relatable—as a young person, as someone censoring themself in order to be safe but not free, as someone suddenly alone and without guidance. And there is an energy to what happens and a justice as well, where Tausi proves herself compassionate but willing to take risks, inexperienced in many ways but still trusting in herself and her family and her power. This would have made an amazing opening to a novel, and on its own it makes for an excellent story that ends in myth and celebration and freedom. It shows what epic fantasy can be, intricate and layered and awesome in a relatively small space (this is a short story, after all, not even a novelette). Go read this one. Seriously, go!
"Red Dirt Witch" by N.K. Jemisin (7500 words)
This story blends magic with the roots of racial desegregation in the American South while relating the tale of Emmaline, a woman trying to keep her family safe not just from racial violence but from the overtures of beings hungry for magical blood. And it's a story about the generation struggle toward something better, about the hope for change when it seems impossible. I love the character of Emmaline, stubborn and strong and willing to do anything for her family but without much hope that things will ever change. Which, given the blood she's seen, the way that she's made it her life's work to help people cope with the oppression, makes a lot of sense. The story draws out from Emmaline, though, to include her children and namely Pauline, her oldest, who has something of her magical gifts and who can believe the future might be a better place. That the racial divides can lessen, that the violence can lessen, that change is more than just an illusion that those with power tell over time. That here the enemy of the story is not human doesn't mean that the violence of it, the threat of it, doesn't stem from racism and intolerance. [SPOILERS] The villain, indeed, is fey, but the power of the fey stems from their ability to steal children that the authorities will not care about. In this instance, black children. And the way that Emmaline and Pauline seek to fight against that speaks to how change happens, the young teaching the old that there's still a point in fighting and the old seeing the power and strength of the young. It's not exactly the happiest of stories but it is incredibly hopeful and beautifully written. It's a story of bargains and cheats and struggle, but also of overcoming all of that to make something and change something so that people can live free. It's a great read and a wonderful way to close out the original fiction!