|Art by Satu Kettunen|
November’s Fireside Magazine focuses on relationships. Mostly romantic, where people are learning to navigate this shared space with their partners. Where each of them bring to the mix something wonderful and alive and warm, but also some damage. Something that makes it tricky sometimes to know what to do or say. The stories follow the ways that these people can hurt each other, and how they can set each other free. They are at turns beautiful and tragic and excellent, and I should get to reviewing them!
“Birch Daughter” by Sara Norja (2761 words)
No Spoilers: Aino is a woman determined to free her mother from a curse that turned her into a tree. She leaves home against the wishes of her father and goes in search of a way to break the spell. The cure she finds, though, isn’t the one that she went searching for, and after a bargain with a bear her situation changes rather dramatically. Of course, without that she might never have met a certain beekeeper, and that would have been a shame indeed. Sweet and with a great sense of magic sweeping over the setting, the piece is quiet but resilient, full of a will to reach an ending full of warmth, comfort, and love.
Keywords: Bears, Bargains, Bees, Birch, Love, Queer MC
Review: I love the way this story builds up its world, one where magic definitely weaves into everyday life. This isn’t a place where magic only exists in the dark corners, or crosses over only rarely into the “real” (read mundane) world. No, this is a place where it’s not unusual for a giant talking bear to just show up and offer to make a deal. Where forest-folk play music to lure the unwary to their deaths in the cold. Where women can be transformed into trees and, it turns out, transformed back into humans. And I just love the kind of certainty with which Aino goes out into the world, knowing that she has to do something to save her mother, even if she doesn’t really know what. It’s something where the how is obscured, but the what is never in doubt, and she’s the kind of person for whom that’s enough. Basically, once she’s decided she’s going to do a thing, she doesn’t really entertain that she can’t do it. She goes to free her mother, and is willing to pay the toll for that. Then she falls in love, and I love the romantic elements of the story as well, that this is something that just feels right to them, despite I guess queer relationships not being the norm in the setting. But she doesn’t question it. She embraces it, and then sets about figuring out how to be with her love. And how she does that, in the face of trickster bears and forest-folk, is thrilling and heartwarming and just the perfect kind of story for the early winter. That shows hope in the face of the cold. That shows people being kind to people, and finding their way back to family and warmth. It’s a story that almost seems easy until you think about it. Until you realize just how hard it is and just how much the characters are risking. And yet their certainty is contagious, their hope infectious in all the best of ways. Just a beautiful read!
“And I Never Named Her” by Renee Christopher (2198 words)
No Spoilers: Kem is a Lorist, part of a hunting partnership that specializes in tracking down and destroying strange creatures that appear and attack and collecting their bodies for brokers for unknown reasons. Their partner is Shahara, a Sword with a lot of skill in killing things. Kem, as a Lorist, is more into information, and acts as backup most of the time. On their most recent hunt, though, after a creature larger and stranger than anything they’ve gone up against, she takes on some new roles. It’s a vividly imagined world full of strange and unknown creatures and a human population that has lost the ability to speak, and communicate instead by sign or by written words that appear as raised and colorful letters on different parts of their skin. The piece is strange but captivating, showing the connection that gets made between hunter and hunted, and how muddied those roles can become.
Keywords: Hunting, Lore, Queer MC(?), Partners, Language, Tongues
Review: I love what this story does with language. How it introduces this world where so much is unknown, thanks in large part because this shift has happened with language. Where people can’t speak anymore, and it’s thrown a lot of things into chaos and confusion. In the aftermath, there are also strange creatures that show up and that are valuable for a number of reasons. For their blood and body parts. A whole economy has been built around just that, where Swords and Lorists hunt the creatures and bring back their trophies so that they can keep going. It’s not exactly a pretty world, but it’s a wonderfully crafted one, where Kem is just plain tired of the grind. Of always going out and killing these creatures without even trying to communicate. And perhaps the creatures can’t, and they’re just mindless killers, but that’s hard to imagine when they feel such a connection to this latest creature. When they can begin to tell the story of this creature, and how it relates back to them. How they are similar, and how that feeling of empathy might just allow for a deeper connection to be made. Except it can’t, not when violence is the default on both sides. It’s something that haunts Kem, and by the end I feel it haunts the reader as well. The feeling that there is something that might be just on the edge of happening. An understanding. A knowledge. And the failure to connect seems to come because they don’t know how to talk. They can’t find the language. And it’s just a tightly woven and weird piece that hits very viscerally, that finds Kem wanting to identify with this creature, wanting for there to be more to these creatures than just monsters or beasts. And they are frustrated and hurt, and it’s a very tender and intimate moment when they can see in this creature something wanting comfort, a reflection of Kem’s own desires and unvoiced hope. A great read!
“The New Heart” by Natalia Theodoridou (946 words)
No Spoilers: Sculpted hearts have been mainstream for a while now, and Yele is a craftsperson with a skill for making them. When Sereena, a woman who Yele had a crush on back in school, comes in looking for a heart, Yele feels a bit of hope flutter in her chest. The direction their meeting goes, however, is not at all what Yele expects...or wants. It’s a lovely and tender story about infatuation and nostalgia and hope. And it shows the careful dance of desire and consent that moves around having a crush on someone, and especially when that crush crosses lines of desire, where someone crushes on someone who has said they’re not interested. It’s a touching, slightly bittersweet story, but one that I feel resolves into something heartwarming.
Keywords: Sculpting, Hearts, Love, Queer MC, Unrequited
Review: I like how this story approaches the idea of attraction and what most people would call unrequited love. Which is a nicer way of waying that Yele has a crush and a fantasy about someone who has said specifically that she’s not interested. Which is a hard thing to hear, and it’s not really like Yele’s infatuation is hurting Sereena. Except that it’s still not really all that great, because it’s taking up room in Yele’s heart. And it sets her up to feel more pain, and get hurt again. And I like how the piece approaches that and takes Yele to a place where she can sit with both her desire and her hurt. Her hope and her yearning and she can see what it does to her. And as a reader it does ask that we challenge a bit the narrative that Yele’s hurt has anything to do with Sereena. Because, ultimately, that’s what Yele has to do as well, and decide that she can’t live in the past, in the infatuation with someone who does not want her back. That there’s nothing there, and she has to embrace the prospect of moving on. The piece is structured so that Yele is working on a heart in between moments in the scene where Sereena reappears and puts in her own order, and for me is teases the reader a little, making it seem like Yele is working on Sereena’s heart. When, really, the story is about Yele, and her complex feelings, and seeing to herself rather than hoping to change the heart of someone else. And it’s a beautiful and quiet piece about the work of loss and love and healing. A lovely read!
“Rain and the Designs of Your Body” by J.M. Guzman (951 words)
No Spoilers: Nat and Julio seem to be in a relationship. The exactly constraints or borders or definitions of that relationship seems to me to be rather liquid, though. And it means different things for each of them. For Julio, the relationship seems to contain him, to reassure him, to help hold his edges. For Nat, though, the relationship becomes something quite different, a source of stress and then something to lie about, first to themself and then to Julio. And how this flows, and overflows, and how the language between them dries up, is very much what the story traces and maps. It’s a careful, wrenching story about relationships and hurt and mental health, and it’s beautifully messy.
Keywords: Relationships, Lakes, Water, Breakups(?), Language
Review: Okay, so there’s a part of me that fears I’m completely missing what’s going on in this story, where Julio has a lake that is growing on him—a lake that Nat visits but, more and more, doesn’t know what to say about it. There’s a beauty to it but also a sense of infection and darkness. And it’s Nat who seems to have a problem with it, while Julio’s thoughts on it remain a bit more clouded. Mostly, he doesn’t seem to do anything about them, while Nat seems to not want to push him but also doesn’t want to drown in it. And it does seem to be the danger, that they might fall into that lake and be lost. And so they decide to put distance between themself and Julio, a distance that ends up pushing them apart entirely. For me, it speaks to how relationships can shift because people in them have issues. Have depressions or addictions that put them in a bad way. Where they need help. And where they lean on their partner in order to function and in some ways to keep them alive. And how that can be this large strain, and that it’s not really on the partner to take care of all of those issues. Nat sees the pain that Julio is in, but they don’t want to take on those hurts as their own. They want Julio to do something about them, knowing it’s not that simple but also knowing that it will hurt them, too, and that there’s not a lot else they can do to avoid that. So Nat takes themself away, because it’s the only way out they can see, even though it means that it makes things worse for Julio. It’s just such a fragile and delicate and real situation with no good way out, and a recognition of just how hard it can feel, and how much it still hurts. A wonderful read!