|Art by Jonathan Simard|
The June issue of The Dark focuses on systems and being stuck in them. It finds two characters who have been pulled into a situation they didn’t chose and don’t want. Where they are pressured into becoming an instrument of death, a pawn in a hunger they don’t want to have. They have two very different paths through these troubled waters, though. Because not all hungers can be refused, and not all chains can be broken, even if sometimes hope and family are enough to reach for freedom. To the reviews!
“Therein Lies a Soul” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (5567 words)
No Spoilers: In a city of plague and spider webs, a certainly ghostly apparition haunts the pure dark under a particular bridge. She has a smile, a veil, and a nail. The stories all agree on that. But the narrator, a singer who just wants to fill the world with their voice, sees something new. And in so doing sets things into motion that will wholly change their life, sending them into uncertainty and danger. The piece is beautifully strange, the city stifling and dank, and the narrator trapped by a dark magic that won’t allow them to leave. That robs them of their hope while giving them the illusion of choice. It’s a richly imagined and complex piece, with a ghost and a bargain and unfinished business at its heart.
Keywords: Singing, Ghosts, Cities, Possession, Spiders
Review: I love the feel of the city, the stickiness of it that is at the same time repellent and captivating. It sticks the narrator and everyone else in place, catching them with fragile tendrils that, as they build up, become more and more unbreakable. The narrator just wants to sing, wants to get their voice out there, but the moment that they see the veiled woman that is taken from them. Because of their potential. Because of their talent. Because of their power. And because of how those in the city with power are terrified of those things. How they cannot stand to see someone have the chance to leave. They are the tyrants of their world, controlling who can rise, and how far. They see in the narrator something that they can use to better themself, to themself beyond the reach of the veiled woman who they also fear, but they are also sacrificing the narrator in the process. And the narrator doesn’t like that. For me the piece is about how these closed systems breed corruption and foulness. How the city is rotten to its core not because of the ghost there, but because of the evil that those with power do. The promise of a better life is so strong that those denied even the chance of it find themselves twisted. Bitter. Willing to allow a different kind of darkness to grow. A song that will tear those in power from their perches. A plague that might not set the city free, but might put it out of its misery. It’s a story full of dread and darkness, full of a yearning want for something that should be possible. That should be attainable. But that has been put outside of reach and locked away. It’s luminous and dense and very much worth checking out. A great read!
“We Sang You as Ours” by Nibedita Sen (5764 words)
No Spoilers: Cadence is the oldest of three sisters who are...well, who aren’t exactly human. I don’t think it’s ever named what exactly they are, but they seem to be some sort of siren, creatures of the sea with the ability to use their voices to captivate people (men primarily and perhaps exclusively) in order to carry out their work. It’s their work that is at the heart of Cadence’s growing dissatisfaction, though. Well, that and the departure of her favorite mother. Bereft and faced with entering into a new phase of her life, Cadence has to sit with the enormity of what she’s doing, what she’s connected to, and what she wants. Under the weight of everyone else’s expectations, there seems little enough chance to chart her own course. Wrenching, quiet, and bloody, the story explores family and roles, traditions and futures.
Keywords: Songs, Seas, Eggs, Family, Rebellion, Murder
Review: I love how this story looks at family and expectations. Cadence is the Oldest, a position that is supposed to make her responsible and obedient. But she’s always been something of a rebel, something she shared with the youngest of her mothers—the mother who is now gone. And this absence is what gives Cadence the space to start to really question what she’s doing, what she’s a part of. Her family is one who hunts, who maintains a cycle of death and feeding. To live. To spread. It’s something she’s supposed to participate in, that she’s supposed to embrace, and yet she recoils from it, doesn’t really want to be a part of something like that. Even it means extinction, though she’s not really willing to accept that, either. The piece does a great job of showing Cadence at this crossroads, with all of these options in front of her, but mostly only those that she’s been given. To leave and find the mother she was always closest to, or to stay to watch after her sisters with her other mothers. What I deeply appreciate about the piece is that she’s able to see past those choices, the falseness of that binary, and to a place where she doesn’t have to accept that the system must either be accepted or rejected. To a place where she can imagine change, and change in a meaningful and profound way. The darkness of the story here is in the situation, in the cycle that they are supporting, but the piece doesn’t end on the same darkness. Instead it seems to reach of a new system entirely, one where the sisters are not bound to the same infinite loop of hunt and feed. Instead of breaking the family apart, Cadence is able to lean into both her desire to protect her little sisters and her need to be something different from what her mothers want her to be. To be her own person, free from the murder she’s been primed to participate in. A wonderful story!