A Fledgling Abiba by Dilman Dila (novella)
No Spoilers: Kuri starts the book as an adolescent girl who has just lost her mother and been sent off to live with an abusive aunt who thinks that Kuri is evil. Why? Well, Kuri’s mother knew and practiced magic, largely in order to heal people, but did something that led to a mob murdering her and almost killing Kuri as well. And Kuri knows a bit of magic, as well, and has powers that she’s coming into. The ability to take people’s memories through looking into their eyes. The ability to defecate fire (a somewhat troublesome power that means going through a lot of pants and chairs). And in trying to figure out how best to use her powers, she’s pulled into a struggle between good and evil, between greedy demigods and a humanity that is moving away from the reverence of spirits and ancestors. The novella follows Kuri as she grows up, learns her craft, and seeks out information about what happened to her mother, and who her father might be.
Keywords: Demigods, Powers, Family, Fire, Memories, Birds, CW- Abuse
Review: I love the way this story explores the ways that Kuri is pushed and pulled by the magical and mythical system that she’s a part of. She has powers, has potential, and yet for most of her life it’s all she can do to try and keep a roof over her head, because the world around her isn’t exactly trusting of magic. For good reason, seeing as how much evil magic is around. There are malevolent spirits who do not wish people well, there are demigods who want to ascend to dominate the world, and even the “good” spirits aren’t exactly above lying, hiding information, and not acting in the face of corrupt uses of magic. Kuri has to navigate all of that without really anything in the way of help, losing her support and safety again and again as she tries to do what she can to help people. And, I mean, I love that at a certain point she just stops giving so much of a fuck about discovery and starts helping people openly, offering up a cure to a magical malady that ravaged the city, that destroyed so many lives. And in standing against it, she reveals that the origins of this disease are not mundane.
For me, so much of the story is about learning how to know what rules need to be followed and which broken, and when. When acting selfishly is evil, and when it can be good. It’s not at all simple, not at all neat and orderly, but neither is life, neither is the world. Kuri’s journey is learning that she has first to be able to live with herself. The evil spirits, the good spirits, all of them are capable of injustice, and both of them are capable of a technical good. The best example of that for me is how Kuri deals with this disease that she comes across, where she can see children with it, and can’t not help them. Not even when the cure, when the treatment, technically makes them her slaves. Gives her the ability to exert her will over them. Which seems like it’s not a good thing at all, and it isn’t, but Kuri does it and then doesn’t exert the power over the people she helps. She doesn’t lean into the power, doesn’t start using it to enrich herself. Her first and biggest goal is to help people, and she doesn’t lose sight of that, and it ends up being the right call. And really, again and again people warn her away from questioning, from seeking answers, from going against the status quo. And again and again she doesn’t listen, and ends up bringing justice, and righting wrongs that everyone seemed about ready to live with.
In the end, the work is a wonderful coming of age story for this woman who has a great power inside her, and who faces dangers on every side, hungry spirits and greedy humans who want to exploit or possess her. At the same time, she finds kindness and love, people who are willing to help her, who come to think of her as family. Until she can piece together the story of her life, and her parents, and step into her full inheritance. It’s a fun story, rich in its magical world building and compelling in its plotting and twists. Kuri is courageous and resilient, and not willing to sacrifice her morals for power. Her struggles are often grim, often difficult, and the novella doesn’t shy away from the difficult realities of corruption, disease, and power. A wonderful read!