“Weaving in the Bamboo” by Eliza Chan (4788 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a storyteller, something that doesn’t change no matter the way her life seems to twist around her. She grows up around sisters, around family, mother and aunt, who push her to develop her skills as a poet, but something about her life is off. There’s a shadow, a set of memories, a sense that she’s already lived and grown away from the life of her village, her family. And as the story moves the truth comes snaking its way out, rearing, twisting. The piece is strange, built upon determination and the strength and danger of stories, and one woman who has gone through everything to prove that she can be a poet, that she can write her own story. It’s a strange but moving story, powerful and resonating, looking at power and grief.
Keywords: Stories, Family, Poetry, Snakes, Battles
Review: I love the way the story finds the narrator trapped in this story that has been designed to keep her from her power. Designed to keep her in her village, keep her from venturing out and becoming a great warpoet. Who wants to keep her in her place as a woman, as lesser. And I love how she breaks free from that, how she sees through it, in part by listening to the words and the lessons she learned from the other women in her life. Her mother and auntie, her sisters, herself. How she is able lto take the tools she learned in the formative part of her life, from the supportive women around her, and fight back, twisting out of the trap that was laid for her, turning the voice of the man trying to silence her into the buzzing of a mosquito. It’s powerful and it’s wonderful. More than that, though, I like how the story deals with the narrator feeling the loss of that family rather keenly. Her rival and enemy might choose the setting of her trap thinking to push her back to “where she belongs” in a misogynist sense, but there’s certainly a part of the narrator that deeply misses her family, that does sort of wonder what might have been. In some ways it’s more of an effective trap than even the man who authored it realized, and I like that, in part because it’s through that that she’s able to climb free, because he misunderstands her character. And from that the cracks in his story flow. But it’s also a reminder to the narrator that she has this family. That she’s come from this admittedly humble background and there’s a part of her that wants to be there still. Because it made her who she is. Because it’s hard to leave it all behind, regardless of the power she has gained, the positive change she can author. And the ending for me speaks to a realization that the distance between her and her home is really only as big as she makes it, as she writes it. She has the power of stories, and that means she has the power to write herself back there, to reconnect with people who are growing stranger. Not to give up what she’s gained but to not lose what she started with. And there’s pain and hope mixed in there that’s beautiful and so well done. A fantastic read!
“Beloved and Deserted” by Nicole Tan (4742 words)
No Spoilers: Mynah is a warrior, the Beloved of a great general, but as the story opens she’s on the trail of a person who has deserted the general’s army. And who took with them a slew of weapons they had crafted from the ambient magical pollution of the setting, the cursewinds. Mynah wants to find them, to get answers she hasn’t thought to much about, answers that speak to something unsaid and unexamined. A truth that she can’t ignore any longer. And as the story progresses, she has to find those answers on her own, by asking herself what’s really important to her. Who is really important to her. It’s a wrenching and lovely story about a warrior, a trickster, and whole lot of curses.
Keywords: Pollution, Curses, Illusions, Queer MC, War, Bounties
Review: I really like the setting here, damaged by an ancient war that has left its mark in the form of these cursewinds, forces that tend to degrade everything they wash over. But that can be shaped by those who have the skill and are willing to make the sacrifice. Only for Lei it never really seems like a sacrifice, because they’re bright and wry and court danger as a rule. They’re frustrating to Mynah, who is a warrior devoted to a general but probably more to the idea of the general. Who is in love with the idea of being a great warrior. But who might also be in love with something else. Someone else. Only it takes her FOREVER to figure this out and it’s such a wrenching process where she’s in denial about her feelings, unwilling to really see what’s right in front of her. Unwilling to see Lei’s feelings laid out in obvious colors. Mistaking them for something else. And so betrayed when Lei leaves, when they refuse to use more of themself for the general when it’s the general who Mynah seems most devoted to. It takes that, though, to start to break Mynah out of the bubble she was in. Her own illusion that she fashioned out of hope and dreams and the dream of being a hero. When really what she ends up wanting is the person who cares for her, who is willing to do everything for her. Who isn’t going to do something so obvious as say plainly how they feel. And in many ways that makes this something of a tragedy, because neither is able to say how they really feel (Lei because they can’t say what they feel plainly, Mynah because she can’t see what she feels through the fog of battle and hero-worship). They almost miss each other. Almost miss being able to be together in the way they both obviously want. And Mynah might still be unable to save Lei, ultimately. But she can make sure that they get some time together. A chance to live how they want, how they always wanted but were too stubborn to see. It’s a wonderfully romantic and captured story, fun and queer and rendered with a kind of doomed passion. And it works, and I’m a bit devastated, and you should join me in both the sad and beautiful joy of this story. A wonderful read!
“Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart” by Louis Evans (4878 words)
No Spoilers: Agent Heartbreak is a government agent designed to be the most attractive, seductive, effective spy. Seemingly fluid in gender, she gets people to love her so they’ll betray their own organizations and governments, then moves onto the next assignment. The Misery Muse is somewhat similar, in that he is also fluid in gender, also incredibly seductive, and also never sticks around very long. But he’s also an ageless being who inspires people by breaking up with them, igniting their creativity through grief. They meet each other on a lonely-hearts cruise and their reactions to each other are nothing like what they’re used to. It’s a strange but charming story, quick and bouncy and sexy but with something a bit deeper and yearning that anchors its emotional core.
Keywords: Muses, Governments, Spies, Cruises, Queer MCs, Non-binary MCs
Review: I like how this story bears all the hallmarks of a romance while being rather aromantic, neither of them really buying into the whole romance thing while they’re simultaneously perceived as these vessels of sexual and romantic desire. Their jobs, their functions, are to use sex for various ends. And to that end both of them sort of get stripped of being considered fully people. Which is only compounded by the Misery Muse being immortal, by Agent Heartbreak being bred into being. They exist mostly as objects of desire. Other people’s desire. And so they don’t really ever get a chance to figure out what it is they want. They have form and function, but either because they don’t really think to or because they’re not really allowed to, they never really self-examine. It’s just a series of flings, of sex and then the devastation afterward. Especially for Agent Heartbreak it’s hard because her exes often kill themselves, because she’s a spy, actively preying on people whereas at least the Misery Muse offers something slightly more positive, though it’s still going in and “tricking” people essentially, because while they consent as they’re going, he knows what happens next and that part is never disclosed. So both sort of operate by this violating pattern, and in each other I feel that there’s this sense of recognition. That they see each other and they see in each other a kind of reflection. And realize that they might not really want what they’ve been doing. For Agent Heartbreak, that might mean just some space a the companionship of a bunch of dogs. For the Misery Muse, that might mean being able to follow up a bit, circling back around, being able to maybe do something new. For both it means taking a bit more control of their stories, and making peace with the fact that they aren’t broken or wrong. Aren’t terrible for not wanting the same kind of ever-after romance that people are pressured to want and expect. The “logical” conclusion to the meet cute. But the characters and the story itself on a meta level rejects that, and settles into their own happy ending, and it’s a glorious thing. A brilliant way to close out the section and the entire issue. Definitely go give it a read!