|Art by Red Nose Studio
Two stories might seem a little light for a month's offerings from Tor dot com, but the works (one short story and one novelette) are both very strong, at turns delightful and challenging, and both with solid boundaries of dark and blood. Stylistically, the two pieces are very different, linked by a dark magic and a bend toward the past, both of them historical fantasies that find the main characters with plenty of blood on their hands...or paws, as the case might be. And both do look at community and family in pushing back against injustice and corruption, but one through the lens of cats fighting for the soul of a human and the other through humans fighting for their own safety and freedom. They're not always easy stories, but they are powerful and complex and I should just get to the reviews!
“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll (7907 words)
No Spoilers: This is an absolutely delightful story about Joeffry, whose human, a poet, is in an asylum because he has a divine poem inside him. The Divine Poem of Poems. Which, of course, means the Devil is also after him, hoping to secure a similarly heretical poem that might undo Creation itself. And standing between that fate and the poet is Joeffry, who isn’t afraid of anything—not even Satan himself. The piece is told from Joeffry’s point of view, and does a great job of capturing his cat-ness. It’s a rather epic story for all that the MC is only about a foot tall, but it’s not the size of the cat in the fight but the size of the fight in the cat, and Joeffry has plenty of fight. Throw in a few friends, a lust for treats, and a touch of (gasp!) humility, and he might just show the Devil that you don’t mess with a cat’s human.
Keywords: Cats, The Devil, Poetry, Asylums, Souls, Bargains
Review: Okay it’s an SFF story about a cat fighting Satan. How could I not love it? The voice immediately drew me in, and the set up is wonderful, too, that here in this hospital Jeoffry runs things, unafraid of the demons who plague the inmates. He is arrogant and sleek and every bit a cat, and really that is a feat in itself. And I love the way the story builds around Joeffry’s confidence and his presence, and his belief that he is the best thing in the universe, in a way that might have been juvenile but isn’t here, or at least doesn’t feel that way to me. This is an adult story, for adult cat people, and it excels because it singles out what people love about cats but also what people hate about cats. How their strength can be their weakness, and how that mirrors so much in people. Because really what the story is for me about is having the strength to ask for help when you need it. To actually take stock of your abilities and the situation and see that you can’t just rush it alone. Or you can’t if you want to have any chance of winning. Not that you can’t be proud of your accomplishments, and not that you can’t recognize when you do great things, but that you also must be mindful that you’re not alone in the universe, and that sometimes your decisions can have profound impacts on other people. And it’s so sweet to see Jeoffry struggling with the fact that he cares, that cats aren’t supposed to care, but they all obviously do, because they all are willing to help when the need is there. Also, the line about people having devils inside them is just a wonderful idea, and I loved it, and you should read the whole story so that you and I can appreciate that line together. You’ll know when you find it. I know, right? So good. And the piece is just utterly charming, sharply funny, and still very dark. It doesn’t hold back from some rather disturbing elements, but through it all it remains fun, and for fans of cats, this continues the proud tradition of making them adorable and murderous companions we couldn’t live without. It’s so good, people. GO READ IT!!!
“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger” by Rivers Solomon (6968 words)
No Spoilers: The story opens with an understated but powerful description of a family—that is summarily killed by Sully, the main character and until-then slave of said family. It’s a incredibly complex revelation that leads into a careful, violent, and beautiful tale of a young woman coming to terms with her life, her actions, and her future. It’s a piece that presents a very visceral picture of the burdens some people carry, the anger and the hurt and the need for vengeance when justice is impossible. And it’s also a rather tender and building story about two women whose lives have been defined by tragedy finding something together that might be...well, if not happily ever after, then the closest they can manage, a messy but affirming partnership that might allow them moments of joy even if they can never put down the burdens thrust onto them.
Keywords: Found Family, CW- Slavery, CW- Pregnancy/Birth, CW- Suicide, Queer MC
Review: So for sure pay attention to the content warnings listed above because this is by no means an easy story in that regard. Opening as it does on murder, one of the larger questions running unasked through the story is how people can reach for positive change when their humanity is illegal. Does that change how laws can be looked at, when they don’t actually apply evenly to everyone? The murders open a sort of rift in reality that allows some from the otherside, who have died already, to return, reborn literally in Sully’s born, conceived through her anger and her need to do something about the situation. The killings she does aren’t things she really regrets, because in many ways they were her only option to try and carve out some freedom for herself. But even as the scale and scope of her killing increases, they are still a sort of burden, a weight that she carries. Because it doesn’t seem like she wants to kill. Just that it’s what’s required to actually build something that might be safe. Just running away isn’t an option. Just killing once isn’t an option. It’s something where to be proactive is to basically revolt against the abuses and dehumanization of herself and those like her. To demand justice she must first become an avenging angel, first and foremost making sure that there will be a safe place for her and her new family. And I love the dynamic that grows around her, that she becomes a central part of this community despite being a grump, despite not really being a happy person. But she also seems to want that, that if she can’t be happy she does like to be around happiness, and it’s part of what draws her to Ziza, the first to be reborn. Their relationship is wonderful, complicated and often very hurt but with this attraction and affection that is rock solid. That ties them together with care and with love, that allows them to bear the present in order to fight for a future where maybe others won’t have to kill just to live free. It’s a beautiful story that doesn’t hide away the violence of slavery behind a comfortable sheen of respectability or peace. It brings a war, full of blood and determination, and places Sully at the head of it, knowing exactly what it means and wanting so badly to be able to be the happy person she might have been but could not in this world. In this world she is a killer, and a leader, and she has a lot of shit to get done. And it’s wonderful and you should go check it out immediately!