“Graveyard Girls on Paper Phoenix Wings” by Andrea Tang (7283 words)
No Spoilers: A trans woman named Magdalisa comes to be the keeper of a graveyard of disreputable women, where the ghosts of those who didn’t fit into the rigid structures of society are sent to repent, but mostly just meddle. When a flyboy, persecuted by the same people that refused to give Magdalisa a place among them, crashes at the graveyard, a romance blossoms and Magdalisa has to face what brought her to Dalaga Cemetery, and what it might take to bring her out again. The story is touching and bright, lined with darkness from the pain Magdalisa has suffered from growing up in a world that doesn’t really accept her, but ultimately about embracing your potential and letting go of the messed up expectations and values pushed on you from those who don’t accept you. It’s a story about love, and about freedom, and it’s an absolutely lovely read.
Keywords: Magic, Ghosts, Trans Woman MC, Romance, Kissing, Family
Review: I love the frame of this story, which moves between that of Magdalisa and Rigo meeting and falling in love and that of Magdalisa’s past. Not just her past, though, but rather the story of what brought her to Dalaga Cemetery, which in many ways is a series of stories, a series of reasons, all leading for her to face a sort of exile from her home, from her mother. Because she wasn’t allowed to fit in and, despite trying her hardest, could make herself fit in. Instead, she must look after the cemetery and try to heal from what’s happened to her, and in that I love how the romance of the story works, as an ultimately healing force. And it’s cute and it’s fun and it’s basically everything that I like when it comes to SFF with romantic elements. And under it is an examination of what happens to those with talents and power in a society that doesn’t want them. Who grow up thinking that things are awarded based on merit but find that they are always graded on a different curve. And more, what makes them exceptional is often tied to what makes them different. That to try and cut away one often means trying to destroy your very self. And for societies, those that cannot be “properly” integrated into the whole must be destroyed somehow. Unless they stand up to the injustice facing them and find, through their skills and their power, that they can make the world bend a little. For Magdalisa, she finds that she is unwilling to just accept the place she’s been put, for though it was sold to her as a place of safety, there is no safety where she can’t be open and free. And the ending is just a joyous and wonderful relief to see, full of love and acceptance and resistance and being able finally to step out from under the restrictions placed upon her and make something for herself. You really do need to read this one!
“Corvus the Mighty” by Simon Kewin (2176 words)
No Spoilers: Gedric travels into a sparsely populated landscape in search of on old hero, only to find that the stories told of Corvus...weren’t exactly complete. Frustrated in his attempt to save the land from an invading force, Gedric teeters on the edge of despair. The piece does a nice job of complicating the rather classic idea of the lone warrior hero, the living legend. It leans on the way that these stories often show a battle-worn and weary hero being pulled back into once last campaign, only here things are twisted and subverted nicely. For all that it bend expectations, it treats the tropes seriously rather than as a joke, and the payoff is solid and satisfying.
Keywords: Heroes, Stories, Invasion, Impersonation
Review: There’s a moment in this story where I flinched internally, when Gedric discovers that Corvus is not only dead but was gay. Because, well, because I feel like centering the straight discomfort with queerness is often something that stories do, often something that fantasy in particular does in this “classic” sense where all the heroes of the stories are straight even as they spend all their time around other men. So that part happens and I was almost expecting the story to follow through on that trope where the main character, who is carrying the reader, becomes all good-intentioned but is ultimately not Okay with this hero being gay. And. And, well, that doesn’t happen, and I very much appreciated that here is just this moment where the main character doesn’t respond with anything other than decency and sorrow, recognizing what the man in front of him has lost when Corvus died. It’s a wrenching moment that’s handled very well in my opinion and I like where the story goes from there, still following the same general tropes but having subverted a few key moments to create a story that feels fresh and new while it plays with ideas that are ages old. It’s a fun piece, not played for laughs but with respect I feel for the kind of fantasy this is. Just arguing rather sharply that a gay hero is in no way out of place or strange. Which perhaps shouldn’t need to be said but it does, and the story I feel succeeds for how it subverts that moment and then pays off with the rest of the tale, which basically says that people won’t care if their hero is gay, so long as he still goes and defeats the invading horde. And for that it’s a great read!
“Pastel Witch” by Jacob Budenz (322 words)
No Spoilers: I’m not entirely sure that I could spoil this story if I tried, so poetic and strange is it. And in its strangeness and in its poetry it does a beautiful job of exploring this place, this person, this man who lives at the border of things, near a lake he cannot swim in, mourning children that transform into other beings. It’s surreal and it’s striking and it leaves me feeling...a bit enchanted, in the classic sense of the word. Dazed and with a touch of magic lingering on the tongue.
Keywords: CW- Pregnancy, Transformation, Flying, Water, Magic
Review: I’m honestly not sure where to start with this review, because for me the piece has a lot to do with the intense strangeness of the prose and the setting it conjures into existence. The man of the story seems to be one who lives in the boundary places between worlds. Between the mundane and the magical, between the earth and the water. Between, and as such there is this ethereal quality to the story that makes me think of faery stories. Because there’s also a darkness here, a grief, that this man has lost and continues to lose but that there is something that keeps him there. Maybe he lives there because it’s the only place he can go, or maybe he lives there because it suits him. But it seems lonely, and it seems dangerous, and yet there is such a rich beauty to everything that it’s compelling anyway. And it’s a story that I’m not sure I can say deifnitively means this or that, but the effect is striking and I definitely recommend people check this one out to see what you can get from it. Indeed!
"Do-Overs” by Jennifer Lee Rossman (1126 words)
No Spoilers: So. CUTE! Roz is a time traveler who has done a lot of rather interesting and rather intense things over their career. So confessing their feelings to their coworker, Ada, shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Playing around with the tropes of time travel and the idea of being able to have do-overs, the story is clever and fun and funny. And the way the characters interact, the tension and the ultimate payoff are all delightful. For a cheery, quick read, this is definitely a fantastic piece to check out.
Keywords: Queer MC, Confessions, Time Travel, Kissing, Embarrassment
Review: So time travel stories aren’t exactly my favorite of subgenres, but I adore what this piece does with the idea. Perhaps because for all that it is about time travel as an idea, there isn’t any time travel in it. But it explores the way that time travelers in media often treat time. As something to rewind and try again. As being there for them to be able to fix things, to get it “right” or “perfect.” When, really, the idea that you can just go back and erase an event is one that gets into all sorts of weird consent issues. The person doing it is showing that they don’t really care about boundaries, and most of the time that rubs me the wrong way. Here, however, I love how the story begins to approach this, that for Roz, facing down Jack the Ripper is easier than talking to Ada about their feelings. That confessing here is so fraught that they make a complete ass of themself. In part, I imagine, because time travelers don’t often think too far ahead. They live in the moment and worry about fixing things later. And that’s what happens, where Roz keeps going back in order to try and get the whole process right so that Ada will think well of them only for...well...only for Roz to learn that their ability to alter their own past has been taken away. And it’s such an amazing moment, when they have to face the full weight of all of their clumsy, slapdash attempts at expressing themself. And that it still works is just all sorts of adorable and healing and amazing. It’s such a lovely, happy story with an energy and a positivity that also seems to come from the time traveler aspect of Roz. That they believe so firmly that things will turn out well because that’s how their job goes. And this time is no different. And it’s just wonderful. Go read it!