|Art by Sandro Castelli|
“The Ghost Pet Detective” by Ryan Row (4100 words)
No Spoilers: Law has come back to his hometown to attend his brother’s funeral, where he meets Norma, one of his brother’s girlfriends, and is drawn into investigating his death. Law can see ghosts, but it’s a talent that’s not quite as useful as it might be, as mostly he just sees animal ghosts. Pets. Flies. Zoo animals. The piece circles around loss and avoidance, revealing the brothers as intensely different and yet linked by this ability. And, as the story moves forward, linked in a few new ways as well. Full of old hurts, the piece reads like trying to close your eyes against the dark.
Keywords: CW- Suicide, Brothers, Ghosts, Pets, CW- Alcohol Abuse, CW- Miscarriage
Review: This is a complex take on brothers and on difference reactions to the same situation. Law is older, and there’s a part of him that can’t forgive his younger brother for being better, for being more attractive and not as haunted about the ghosts that they both are able to see. Law runs from his ability, tries to escape it with alcohol and distance, and concentrates on animals because it’s possible that, if he were to look harder, he’d see more than that. And it’s a rather terrifying thing, seeing the dead. And while Law is somewhat successful in keeping his vision under control, his brother is different. His brother doesn’t run, and instead looks closer at the ghosts, tries to get a clearer view. And yet Law is alive and his brother is not. And Law is left with the weight of that, with having to look at his life and decide what he’s really doing. What he wants. It’s a story thick in yearning but not exactly high on hope. It’s not tenderness or empathy that it finds in Law or Norma, but pain and guilt and something desperate to not have to face painful truths. And really it is a moving and quiet look at family, at brothers, and at the wide distance between them, and what dwells there. A great read!
“By the Hand That Casts It” by Stephanie Charette (5100 words)
No Spoilers: Briar Redgrave lives out her early retirement as a florist. Not simply arranging bouquets for the rich and lovelorn, though. No, part of her work caters to the sending of special messages through the languages of flower selection and arrangement—a skill quite popular among assassins. So when an up and coming young duelist arrives in her shop with bravado and a hidden agenda, it’s not exactly a surprise, though he certainly isn’t what Briar was expecting. And the piece is fun and flowing, with a playfulness and action that make keep the pacing fast and the stakes high. And the story finds Briar having to tap into some suppressed instincts...and just maybe cutting short her retirement.
Keywords: Flowers, Retirement, Assassins, Love, Rivalry
Review: This story is a lot of fun, focusing on a moment when Briar’s past comes catching up with her. And, really, I love the way that the story builds up her dissatisfaction throughout, how she’s grown tired and rather frustrated with the mundane life of a florist, even one who deals primarily with assassins. There’s too much down time and too much...safety. When, really, she’s not a person who revels in safety, rather taking it on to spare the pride of her husband. And then this new arrival. This challenger, as if the physical manifestation of her fear that she’s too old, too slow, and too much content in the shadow of her husband, when really it’s her who retired unbent, undefeated. And, she comes to realize throughout the piece, her retirement was a mistake. But I love that it takes a challenge, a threat to her life, to knock her out of her complacency, her rut. It takes someone trying to kill to remind her just what she shouldn’t have given up, and get her back in the game. Which is rather glorious. The fight is well choreographed and visceral while maintaining a voice of proper disinterest. And it’s a blast from beginning to end, with a vigor at the end that promises much more mischief to come. A wonderful read!