“Salt and Iron” by Gem Isherwood (4914 words)
No Spoilers: Dagna, known as Dagna Ironhands because of an incident with fae-like creatures known as Themselves that left her, you guessed it, with iron hands, hasn’t had much luck of late. Tossed off of every ship she’s worked on because of her tendency to brawl, she’s graduated (or sunk) to getting into (and losing) brawls with card sharps. There doesn’t seem to be much lower she can go, and then she’s offered something for a lifeline. A rumor that a nearby village has a problem with Themselves, and are offering a reward for any who can fix it. In truth, though, the reward isn’t exactly for helping the village, and what Dagna finds when she arrives isn’t nearly what she expected. The piece is full of trauma and the lingering wounds of abuse, and without seeking to erase those the piece plots a course of Dagna to a place where maybe those wounds won’t define her as much as the things she does and the people she chooses to be with.
Keywords: Prosthetics, Fairies, Bargains, Bounties, CW- Abuse, Queer MC
Review: I like how the story establishes Dagna and her anger, her anger that has a lot to do with her pain, the pain of the trauma she’s never been allowed to get over and the anger at the pain that she constantly feels. A pain that pushes her to reject staying silent or being meek, to reject begging ever again because of what she was made to do. The piece finds her at a low point and then given the opportunity to maybe get to somewhere better. Which has the added benefit of taking her back to the place she grew up, the place she was running away from for so long because of the hurt she suffered there. And it’s wrenching and real what she goes through, how she was made into a victim and how she decided to take back some agency. And I love that the story shows that there are some toxic ways of dealing with anger and injustice, that Dagna isn’t exactly dealing with her issues, and for as much as it’s understandable what she’s going through, she does need help. Only that’s such a loaded thing, because being vulnerable has always hurt, has always meant that she was taken advantage of or left open to even greater pain. So she’s built her defenses. And only when she’s put into a position where people help without expecting anything in return (the landlord at the beginning, and Karin later on), without making her beg, can she start to heal from the old injuries that still haunt her, that still pain her. And the romance is lovely in the story, too, the slow burn, how it’s built up out of the two women not doubting the other, giving the respect that they’ve always been denied. They treat each other well, and risk being vulnerable with each other because they’ve earned that trust, and finally it doesn’t backfire, doesn’t mean further pain. The ending is bright and fun and happy and it’s such a good read. Go check it out immediately!
“We Are the Flower” by Claire Humphrey (4290 words)
No Spoilers: MC was a bike courier, a woman dealing with a lot of stuff, with a boyfriend who she had just broken up with and a roommate who she wanted to be closer to. Only I say was because she’s now a ghost, and the transition isn’t exactly a smooth one. Now she’s stuck without a good idea of what she needs to do, what her unfinished business might be. Except, as more time passes, she comes to suspect. And the result is a wrenching story about loss and hurt and moving on. About two people and the huge might have been between them, and where it leaves them when it’s not.
Keywords: Bikes, CW- Traffic Accidents, Ghosts, Relationships, Flowers
Review: This story certainly doesn’t hold back with the emotional artillery, telling a story from the first person to a second person “you” (in this case MC’s roommate and would-be love, Chris) where the narrator is dead and you have sunk into a depression because of it. Wider than that, the narrator also looks at how her death has touched others, what it means for her friends and her ex (who’s kinda an asshole) and even for the teenage girl who killed her. These things are heavy, and having a character look at their own death, the shock and numbness of it, having that come through in her voice, is difficult at times, especially with the sort of brash and sarcastic attitude that the narrator has. She’s a character that I want to root for, but that she’s dead...complicates things. Because the story never really gets into What Comes Next. There is the urge not to linger, because lingering is painful, but there’s a question what and how and why. MC has unfinished business, but her unfinished business isn’t forgiveness, isn’t revenge. It has more to do with the person she was about to confess her love to, the roommate who was so much kinder than her ex, so much more understanding and considerate. The person who now she’s speaking to, hoping that they’ll listen. In some ways the unfinished business is about preventing further tragedy, isn’t “about” the narrator at all, really, except that she’s the only one who can get through to the person she left behind. So she has to face the deep well of sadness that they both share, because of what they lost---their time together, their future together. And she has to use that to make it clear how she felt, so that maybe both of them can see it in all its beauty and tragedy and move on. I’d a sad piece, because of the deep hurt that dominates the story, and the fact that it can’t really be fixed, only moved on from. Only survived, at least for one of them. And what remains is a hope that maybe it will mean something still, that at least it will still exist in the past, what they shared, even if their futures now are separate. It’s heartbreaking, but also a wonderful read!