|Art by Ferdinand Dumago Ladera|
“The Star Plague” by Rich Larson (11864 words)
No Spoilers: Bragi has been exiled from his home and, adding literal injury to insult, gets hit by some sort of falling star that leave him covered in scars and in need of recovery, which he receives from a remote monastery. There the priests nurse him back to health, but when things start getting strange (and violent) he’s also easy enough to blame, and he’s kicked out of another place. Except this time there’s a reason to call him back, and Bragi must face the horrors that have visited this isolated community and threaten to tear it to shreds. It’s a rather visceral piece, building nicely towards a kinetic battle between Bragi and...well, that would be telling. Needless to say it’s a story that keeps most of the focus on the battle, while also circling around Bragi’s outlook on life and his slow realization that he might very much missing having a place to belong.
Keywords: Historical, Monsters, Priests, Transformations, Zombies, Goats
Review: Well I’m just going to guess that the publication is getting into the Halloween spirit with this story that is something of a historical fantasy take on monsters and zombies, all with a Norse twist on it. I do like the place where Bragi is, where he’s carrying this heavy grief because of his loss of not just his family but his community. He’s alone, and despite the circumstances, he seems to be grudgingly enjoying himself with the priests, though toxic masculinity exists even in the old days because he wants no part of admitting his feelings. He insists to himself that he’s a lone wolf (and I do like the touch of him killing the lone wolf that has grown weak and emaciated because it lost its pack). When he gets kicked out it actually hurts, and yet the call to come back and save the priests is conflicting. Not just because he wants to hurt them back but because it means opening himself up again. Luckily he can sidestep that by having nothing much to lose and probably going to die in the attempt anyway. Which at least would spare him further loneliness. And then the piece becomes a pretty straightforward after that, with action and more action. It’s well rendered and choreographed, where Bragi becomes the beefy action movie star kicking ass and taking names. And it manages to be a rather fun romp even as it’s a dark and gory experience. There’s a slight humor to it that I appreciate, and it makes for an entertaining read!
“The Butcher, the Baker” by Mike Allen (4378 words)
No Spoilers: Trukos just wanted to praise his Auntie Mayya’s baking. He didn’t mean to kill a man in a duel because of it. But that small praise lands him in some big trouble as he has to contend not just with having killed someone, but having done so without the orders of his Auntie. Because Trukos isn’t exactly new to murder, and he’s not exactly human either. This is a strange piece that builds around a being baked into existence for one reason and finding that...he might not actually like that reason. It’s dark, like the previous story, but perhaps not as horror-driven, focusing instead on creation, freedom, and isolation.
Keywords: Assassins, Creation, Baking, Duels, Commands
Review: Trukos is in a rather pitiable situation, created by his Auntie Mayya to kill people she wants dead. Her husband. A rival. Trukos doesn’t think much about that, because he never gets anything but her assurances that these deaths are necessary, and he’s being manipulated magically to get him to comply with her orders. It’s interesting that killing someone is actually what ends up being the thing that gives him the key to his freedom, though it comes at such a price, inflicting him with a wound that never goes away. That always hurts. That he is desperate in many ways to heal, but cannot. It’s that pain that really opens his eyes to his real situation, though. To the way that he’s being manipulated and controlled. To the harm he is doing, and the possibility that what Auntie Mayya is telling him, that he was certain was the truth, isn’t. It really speaks to isolation and abuse, to the way that Auntie Mayya seeks to control him by being his only real source of information or company. No one else really speaks to him, and even when they do, he’s been ordered to stick to the script that she gave him. Only she didn’t really prepare him enough for the outside world, and in the cracks of his education slip the seeds of ruin. And for me it’s a rather tragic piece, because it shows just how deep a hole Trukos starts out in because of how he is raised, because of the abuse and control that he is subjected to. He’s not a person but a tool to his Auntie, despite the fact that he obviously feels. But she just wants to use him for her own goals, content much more with obedience than in being a rounded individual. And Trukos can never fully escape that, carries the wounds with him. But he can get his freedom, can escape at least the need to listen to her orders. Can take control of his actions, even if he’s been poisoned by what he did when he was following her commands. It’s certainly a dark piece, and rather heartbreaking, but worth spending some time with. A fine read!