“Dance for Your Daughters” by Lulu Kadhim (774 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story wakes to tragedy and the cycle of her now-cursed life. She’s alone but for the daughters she can bring into the world—daughters who never stay. The piece is short, opening the section of the issue with a breath of shadows and a light of love that cuts through it. Still, it’s a beautiful tragedy brought on my prejudice and fear and hate, and the piece shows that not all fairy tales, not all warnings against witches and magic exist because those things are evil. More like they are powerful, and there are few things people fear more than a woman with power.
Keywords: Family, Witches, Curses, CW- Death of a Child, Construction
Review: This story captures such a wrenching situation, a cycle of birth and death and magic, as the narrator remains trapped, cursed to never leave a hut that provides for little enough of her basic needs. What magic that is left to her can get her food and water, some small materials to craft. But no companionship. No escape. Nothing but the songs in her heart and the presence of the insects and the trees. She’s caught trying to right that, trying to build a daughter who can share in her exile. And the tragedy for me is that the narrator knows those daughters won’t stay with her indefinitely, that they, too, yearn to be free. But the magic that holds them together exists only in the hut. And so the narrator builds. And builds again. And again. Each loss and devastating blow but never enough that she doesn’t start over, using up more of herself until, inevitably, she’ll be gone as well. But this is what is left to her, and perhaps through the repetitive cycle she hopes that maybe something different will happen. That it won’t always end in sorrow. And for me it speaks to the injustice of what’s happened to her, that it’s seems she’s been cursed because she was found out as a witch. But that being a witch here doesn’t mean being evil. Doesn’t mean using magic to do anything wicked or violent. The narrator still has some powers, after all. Hypothetically they could use their powers to try and punish those who put her in the hut. There could be retribution, or at least the attempt at it. Just as she probably could have tried to fight back when they came. Instead she’s more or less accepted her imprisonment except for her desire to have a daughter, except for the need to hear that she isn’t alone, and she can love and be loved. And it’s a beautiful take on that, on love and imprisonment, on magic and fear. A great read!
“One Last Stand for the Cold Blooded Chaos Society” by Megan Lee Beals (3553 words)
No Spoilers: Alex is the co-owner of a small recording studio along with his partner (business and romantic), Robbie. But Alex is also a man running from his past when he had a brief stint as a supervillain and, inadvertently, played a part in killing one half of the most famous superhero couple in the world. Now, years later, the daughter of that superhero wants to make a record with his studio. Just as some of the people also involved in the incident start turning up dead. The piece is wrenching, looking at guilt and fear in a world where superheroes are very real and often don’t have to worry about the collateral damage they inflict. The character work is sharp and wonderful, and the whole thing is resonating.
Keywords: Superheroes, Revenge, Music, Family, Queer MC
Review: I’m a sucker for a good superhero story and this one is wonderful and chilling. Though told with a rather light style, fun and funny and charming, the underlying issues are intense and rather dark, dealing with the guilt that Alex is carrying around for his part in accidentally killing a man and the simmering injustice of all the collateral damage that comes about because superheroes view themselves as above the law. And there’s something so awful about Alex’s situation, that he was essentially just a kid trying to do something that he believed was right. Not looking to really be a villain, but wanting to bring attention to the people that die because heroes are often not careful. Only things got out of hand, and someone died. Which sort of underscores how easy it can be with powers for something like that to happen. Only the other shoe in that situation is that justice is not equal. For Alex, that one accident was essentially a death sentence that has been hanging over his head ever since. And now when he can see and feel the revenge for that coming, he’s devastated. In part because a part of him must believe he deserves it, and in part because he’s already suffered because of it. And someone with almost god-like powers is out to kill him. Brutally. As she’s killed the other people involved. Making it look like accidents. Never held to account for those deaths, and vindicated in her belief she’s doing the right thing. I love how that gets brought full circle, how the daughter of the man Alex had a part in killing and the woman who has made it her work to kill all those involved...is just rather normal. Or, well, not normal. But how she still believes in good as more than a side. Believes in justice as more than what can be found at the end of a fist. And I really like how it all comes together, how Alex handles what could be his final moments and how the story balances the good that heroes can do with a meaningful justice that still holds them accountable for their actions. A fantastic story!
“Fresh from the Oven” by M.A. Florin (1629 words)
No Spoilers: Gretel is a young girl just turning thirteen, her name chosen when her mom was researching her genealogical ties to fairy tales. It’s a naming that ends having special significance, though, as the thirteenth generation since the original Hansel and Gretel, and on Gretel’s thirteenth birthday she has a dream of a witch in a house made of food. The piece is touched with a certain kind of creepiness, but through that features a fascinating twisting of fairy tales, combining elements from many to produce a work that is partway about revenge and much more about the power of names, and how that power isn’t necessarily only used for evil.
Keywords: Fairy Tales, Birthdays, Names, Revenge, Cakes
Review: I really like the way the story melds the older elements, the fairy tales and hungry witches, with the modern touches, the cell phones and the premade cakes and everything. Gretel is a great lens through which to experience the events, too, because there’s something of a double fake going on that is delightful. And she has no real idea what the hell is going on. Is just thrown into this situation without much warning. Really, she’s used as bait, and it’s a moment where I mean Justice probably takes the wheel from Good Parenting but it all works out so hurrah. And I think what I like the best is the way that Gretel’s mother uses fairy tales to enact this plan. And how she takes control of a situation that could easily have spiraled into tragedy. For me it’s not even the teeth, not even the surprise that really does it. It’s the way that the mother twists the kind of story that it is. At first it seems obvious that this is a Hansel and Gretel story. The names line up. But the mother does something subtle when she arrives, changing the story, shifting it off its tracks and onto another one that she controls. And it’s not something that is really explained within the story, but for me it’s easy to trace the way that the mother strips the power away from the witch by pushing her out of her role as villain and into the role of victim. From witch to grandmother. And the power of the story, rather than necessarily the power of the mother’s physical form, is enough to completely change how things could have gone. At least, for me, I feel the implication is that the mother needed to tell the story first, and that it kind of gave her the power she needed. Which might just be me reading too much into it, but I do like that it’s how the piece plays out, that the witch becomes grandmother and the mother becomes wolf. And through that twisting we find that the “truth” behind the fairy tales were not accurately reported. So there’s an element of liquidity in that, where not all wolves are big or bad, and not all grandmothers are innocent. A great read!
“Mr. Lieber Comes to Hirta” by Priya Sridhar (3805 words)
No Spoilers: Martin is an illustrator working on a military base on a remote British island during World War II. His job is to churn out ideas, to think of characters to be a part of the war effort. Meaning, to be a part of propaganda that will help to bolster the spirit of civilians and soldiers alike. It’s a bit of a thankless job, at least in that most of his ideas are reworked, stripped of their marginalized identities in order to have as “wide appeal” as possible. And while that’s going on, a strange cat begins visiting him room. A cat that just might be more than its letting on. It’s a story of war and creativity, about finding different ways to fight the battles that need to be waged.
Keywords: Comics, War, History, Soldiers, Propaganda, Cats
Review: Okay so I love that there’s a strange cat who ends up being a lot more than they seem. And I like that the story is essentially about propaganda and one man who has a certain talent for it, even if he wishes he were able to do a bit more with his skills. Because it does seem odd that the military would hire someone who does care about representation and trying to reach those who are most being trampled by the war. Except that he offers them this well of ideas. Idea after idea, and all they then have to be good at is taking out the bits that don’t fit what they want and then bam, mass produce. This kind of intellectual theft isn’t new or uncommon, and it speaks to the ways that marginalized creatives are often exploited. The complication here is that in many ways Martin wants that. Because the war is important. Because people are dying. Because people do need heroes. And yes, the situation is less than ideal, but he does need to be doing something, and his skills here at least go towards the fight. Even if that fight wants to erase him. Wants to erase everyone like him. Even when there’s no “Good” side to the conflict, just varying degrees of kinda awful. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what side wins. It matters. And so Martin creates, struggling with his guilt and anger and shame. And then stumbling on this secret program pulled from one of his stories. To create characters out of ink, to make them into flesh and unleash them on the battlefield. Which is a bit terrifying. But it speaks to me to the power that these stories have, the ways they can be as valuable as tanks, as strong. And some of them refuse to be contained by the military, refuse to be controlled and stripped of the relevance he wanted to give them. It’s an interesting, charming story about comics and war and cats being cats but also shape shifting government experiments. And it’s a fantastic read!
“Mylène” by Anna Fagundes Martino (3462 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is from the youngest generation of a family that has a long history of being involved in piracy and magic. Though piracy here is more about trade in magical items than it is about boarding and stealing. The narrator is mostly out of the life, though, and working in a library in Brazil, when they are tasked with cleaning out their grandfather’s house following his death. Turns out the man was a hoarder, and a lot of the stuff he kept isn’t exactly mundane. Among what they find, though, is something from much more recent, and which contains an actual person. Or merperson, at least. And Mylène becomes a mystery, and an adventure, for the narrator, one that might just rope them back into some of the old family traditions.
Keywords: Merpeople, Pirates, Magical Artifacts, Seas, Languages
Review: This is a rather charming story about a person being pulled back into a life they thought they had escaped. A life of magic and strangeness, oceans and magic and other worlds. And from the start it’s something of a mystery, a question of who Mylène is and what’s brought her all the way to Brazil. Which isn’t exactly the hardest mystery to solve, though it ends up being a bit more complicated than anticipated. The whole thing just screams misadventure, the mess of the past having to be sorted in the present. The real horde of the narrator’s grandfather not the physical stuff, necessarily, but the legacy and the loose ends he never bothered to pick up. And so there are lost children, and secret ties that cross oceans and continents. The narrator was trying at a quiet life, avoiding the vaguely creepy guy at work but otherwise living their life. But they got chosen to help clear up what happened, and their own decency means that they’re unwilling to just leave Mylène hanging when she’s come so far for answers and maybe some closure. It’s a story that shines with how it reveals this world hidden beneath the mundane one, full of different peoples, different creatures, and a network of pirates all keeping the wheels greased. The narrator is the long-suffering guide, annoyed on general principle at the strangeness of it, at the drama of it. But at the same time with ties to it, a comfort that makes navigating that space almost natural. For all they’ve turned their back on it, it might not have turned its back on them, and for all they struggle against it the piece seems to show how it’s in their blood, and how it draws them back. And it’s a lot of fun and great way to close out this section!