|Art by Julia Griffin|
February’s Apex Magazine is a little shorter than usual, with only two short stories (though there’s still over 12,000 words of original content), but the pieces definitely don’t feel small. Indeed, they’re about people who are tired of being forced into boxes too cramped and confining. Roles laced with pain and abuse. Situations where hope seems hidden behind a veil. They are done being expendable, being victims, and they are fighting back. Both pieces balance action and heavy emotional lifting, blending wonderfully realized and magical settings with careful character work that doesn’t make light of what they’ve gone through or where they’re going. So let’s jump right into the reviews!
“The Crafter at the Web’s Heart” by Izzy Wasserstein (6100 words)
No Spoilers: Traverse is a kind of city built on the web of a long-departed spider, the Crafter, and Danse is a young woman trying to make a living in on rough and corrupt strands. The piece follows her on a job, a delivery that goes wrong and keeps going wrong—one that exposes a lot of what makes Traverse a terrible place to live, but also a few things that make it worth fighting for. The story is dark and action-packed, filled with a wild magic that twists those who use it, turning them into the thing they specialize in most. It’s a terrifying and often brutal world, but it’s one held together not with hatred or spite or exploitation, but with love and kindness and compassion. Where people helping people is the only way to keep the whole thing from falling down into the abyss, the strands often seeming like a delicate, tenuous connection but in actuality stronger than steel.
Keywords: Webs, Spiders, Transformation, Trades, Magic, Queer MC
Review: I really like what this story does with the idea of webs, and especially in terms of justice and communities. Because Danse is someone who loves the web, who has a strong affinity for spiders and spinners. And who knows that the most important thing for people are their connections. The threads that tie them to each other. The bonds that mean that people care about each other, want to help each other. And in the face of that she has to come up against the things that weaken those bonds. The inequality and injustice that spreads throughout Traverse, that means that wealthy is horded by a cruel few and everyone else has to go without. And yet she also knows that the way to push back against that isn’t with destruction, isn’t with more killing, isn’t with unraveling the whole web just to build the same thing over again. And the story does a great job of bringing her to a place where she’s placed not as the web’s architect or destroyer, but rather as a person who makes it her job to strength the threads. To repair damage where she can. To try and maintain and defend the web from the threats that come against it. So that the people of Traverse can have a chance to build themselves up out of the oppression they face, creating something beautiful and terrible and strong enough to resist the machinations of the corrupt and selfish. And it really is a fun and thrilling experience, with lots of memorable characters and a freshness and a speed that make it a pleasure to read! Definitely make time to check this one out!
“Cold Iron Comfort” by Hayley Stone (6100 words)
No Spoilers: Amadis is on the run from an abusive Fey lover, Kinnear, who kept them in his realm for months hoping to completely break their resolve. Instead, Amadis is done with him and done with the Fey and wants only to return home where it might be safe. Where they might be able to keep Kinnear away. And what fuels them in part is the knowledge that their father will always accept them back without question, as he’s always done. Only things have changed on the mortal realm in ways that they’re not exactly ready for, and the piece carries a dark tone as it finds Amadis having to navigate a situation without the support they thought they could rely on. But it’s a defiant read, one that knows the complex and intricate ways that abuse and desire work and doesn’t shame Amadis for their decisions or misfortunes, instead reaching for hope and freedom in the face of coercion and intimidation.
Keywords: Fey, Family, CW- Abuse, Non-binary MC, Portals
Review: I love how this story really gets at the horror of what’s been done to Amadis, but not in a way that makes it about their mistakes or their foolishness. They were targeted by a Fey and seduced, enchanted by his magic and his promises. And he is an abusive shitbag. And the story doesn’t hide that away, doesn’t soften what he does to them. Not does it show, however, that what they felt was entirely a lie, entirely a construction or illusion. They have to deal with their complicated emotions, including their guilt that while they were gone their father died. And everything they thought they knew was changed. Except that they know themself and they know that they don’t want to be with Kinnear anymore, and this thing that was supposed to break them instead allows them to step out from the desire for comfort and into a place where they don’t want to run any more. Where they can face Kinnear directly (with some help from a new friend) and fight with a hope of winning free of his manipulations and influence. And it’s a nice piece about that resistance, about that defiance. And about taking strength from not being the victim that someone else wants you to be. From knowing yourself and believing in that knowledge. And it’s a rather great read!