|Art by Victoriya "Anda" Shamykina|
“Revival” by Lisa M. Bradley (5620 words)
No Spoilers: Carmen is a young woman drawn to a revivalist tent that has been raised on her family’s land in the hope that maybe the Preacher can erase the scars covering her skin. Instead, she meets a different man, one who has some issues of his own, and the two fall into an easy and passionate relationships. Things aren’t all what they seem, though, and it’s soon revealed that the man, Swift, is hiding a rather dramatic secret, and running from a very dangerous past that is poised to catch up with him. It’s a romantic, fun, and resilient story about love and healing, and it puts a very interesting and novel twist on a rather tried-and-true idea in SFF.
Keywords: Healing, Souls, Illness, Family, Undead, Relationships
Review: I have read a number of zombie romance stories in my day (which might be a weird confession), and so I can say that this isn’t _exactly_ one of those but at the same time is also _kinda_ similar, in that it features a love story between a woman and a man who is, well...dead. Undead? The piece charts its own course with that idea, though, building up a very practical and level-headed Carmen, who isn’t exactly quick to call something supernatural, even when she’s whooping it ass. And I just love the way the story reveals the characters, the way that Carmen leads and the men who know what’s good for them fall in step behind her, recognizing that she’s the more powerful. Which is rather refreshing, because it puts Carmen into this space where she’s used to being the one to act, to cut through the fear of others and reach of justice. She doesn’t hesitate when there’s something she wants, and though she doesn’t take unnecessary risks, she doesn’t shrink from danger. Which is a bit of a complicated point when looking at her reaction to Swift’s confession of his undead nature. With that, though, I feel that it’s more about learning that he has this dark past that he’s never told her about. It doesn’t seem to be just that he’s undead, but that he’s put her and her family in danger a bit through his desire to be with her. Which is perhaps sweet, but also dangerous because she needs to be informed to make decisions. And he takes a bit of that from her. Not that she fights less hard because of it—not that she doesn’t pull him from the proverbial fire. But what she seems to need time for is not to come to terms with him being undead but with how he didn’t trust her with the truth, which almost doomed them. It’s a really fun read, though, romantic and warm and humorous at times (the cousins are just amazing) and showing just how trust and respect can help to heal in ways more profound than any Preacher. How it can build something even a demon cannot break. And I do love how the title works on different levels, both in reference to the Preacher and his tent show and to the way that Carmen and Swift revive each other, giving each other a new desire to live fully in the present. A great read!
“Silver Springs” by T.R. North (7898 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a young woman who’s compelled to steal things, something that has led her parents to smuggling her away from New York in the hope of “curing” her of her immoral ways. The goal is to avoid scandal and allow the family to reenter “proper” society, and the method is through a rather...unconventional practice. One where the afflicted gives a silver coin to a mermaid, who is supposed to take whatever unwanted quality with the silver down into the depths. Only something goes wrong, and what the mermaid takes is...not really what anyone consciously wanted. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t open something for the narrator, a door they are poised at the threshold of, looking through to something they’re not sure they want but suspect they need. A dark, careful story with a touch of yearning and feel of shadows moving beneath the surface of the water.
Keywords: Sin Eaters, Mermaids, Theft, Queer MC(?), Historical
Review: I love the way the story frames the narrator’s situation, that she’s been stealing and must be “cured” despite the fact that her parents seem to have the larger moral failings. Indeed, so much of her desire to steal seems to be linked to her own feelings of powerlessness, to her own desire to be free. She’s caught with parents who don’t care for her in a world where her prospects aren’t exactly that hopeful. All around her technology seems to be moving, promising better futures, but for the narrator everything seems shrunk down, narrowed in ways she doesn’t feel able to escape because of societal expectations. And then she meets a mermaid. And it’s a moment to me that really captures this feeling of magic. That here is something, someone, outside the bounds of convention. Who has magic and can do whatever she wants. And in that moment something sparks in the narrator, a feeling of longing and identification that is immediately caught and reflected back by the mermaid herself. What develops is strange and uncertain but carries with it a sort of haunting beauty. Because for me it’s difficult to say the extent that the mermaid knows what’s happening. The narrator is a bit convinced that with every coin she gives her mermaid, the more the mermaid is shaped by her desires into what she really wants—a means of escape. If that’s the case, though, it’s not a romance that’s going on but a sort of manipulation. And I tend to think instead that the mermaid could always speak, could always love, but never felt strongly enough about a human until the narrator, until the mermaid tasted her desperation and need and felt something passionate and immediate it. And that’s given space to grow as the two meet and are drawn more and more together. For the narrator it seems an affirmation to embrace their difference, their desires, and reach for the freedom they’ve been dreaming about. It’s a vivid and dark piece but one that sees a better future for the narrator—not one full of technology but of magic, and the love of a mermaid. A fantastic story!