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“And This is How to Stay Alive” by Shingai Njeri Kagunda (5410 words)
No Spoilers: Told in revolving perspectives, the story opens with Nyokabi discovering her brother’s body. It moves to Baraka’s wake, his funeral, all while Kabi tries to tries to cope, tries and fails not to think about what she might have done to stop what happened. If she might have known. Only a bottle from a distant relative might hold the key to do more than that. A bottle, and a strange but fascinating idea about time. The piece is difficult and complex, beginning as it does at a moment of intense trauma. And in trading between the perspectives of Kabi, Baraka, and Time itself, the story builds an interesting and complicated picture of grief, acceptance, and second chances.
Keywords: CW- Suicide, Family, Time Travel, Potions
Review: Big content warning right from the start, but this is also just a beautifully built story about grief, family, and loss. And I love the idea of time travel, here, this sort of magical, sort of scientific idea that for those who cannot see a future, it might be possible to travel backwards. Certainly that seems like something that Kabi feels, that might allow her, with the potion she gets from her relative, to reach back to before Baraka died, to maybe seek a way to prevent what happened. While also sort of coming to terms with the way that it wasn’t her fault. That what happened happened because of a network of reasons. A system that made Baraka feel helpless, without options. But that doesn’t mean that Kabi isn’t going to fight it. Isn’t going to fight for her brother. Isn’t going to be the responsible older sister in the way that matters. Not it doing what their parents want, not in backing them up, but in being someone to see Baraka and give him her love and support. Without reservation, without question. To find joy with him and support him. And I just love how that comes together, the way the story builds the relationship between the siblings, the way they kind of save each other. The way they embolden each other. So that she can say some things to their parents that she would not have been able to say otherwise. That he can...that he can live, when she comes back for him. And it’s such a fragile and messy and fraught situation. Wounded and shattered. They are both living in this world now without a future, and it allows them to reconnect, to forge at least a present for themselves where they know they have each other. Where maybe that’s enough. And it’s a story that’s at turns heartbreaking and heart warming, the ending resolving into something warm and hopeful, and definitely worth checking out. A great way to open up the resurrection of this publication!
“An Introduction” by Reina Hardy (595 words)
No Spoilers: This story frames itself as something of a class, or a textbook. It comes through as a voice speaking in the second person, explaining to you the purpose of the course. It’s a kind of going over the syllabus of the class that the story represents, one that appears mysteriously and magically. One that might be real, or not, but has a lot to say in order to get you ready for the class. In order to make sure you understand that there are no magic door, though magic door are everywhere. The piece is very short, but that doesn’t stop it from being a magic door itself, a call to enter a greater world beyond. It’s a fun, brief welcome not just to a genre, but perhaps to a relaunched publication celebrating that genre.
Keywords: Classes, Texts, Magic Doors, Fantasy
Review: I like how the story blends this academic tone, coming as the introduction to a textbook or a class on fantasy. At least, for me, though it’s never said aloud, the focus of the story is on fantasy. The idea of it, how it is expressed in literature, and how it might hint and things that are not just the stuff of daydreams. And really, I love the way that it kind of embraces the idea of fantasy as escape. It’s a big part of fantasy and certainly a reason for its popularity, this idea that is popular in that there might be a door from here to...somewhere else. Somewhere magical and alive and not weighed down by the concerns of the here and now. The story here is quick to say that there are no such doors. Only there are. Only...well, it comes down to metaphor. to the subject of the class. To fantasy, and the fact that every fantasy story is a magic door, an escape into a world of fiction. Not a physical door, no, though the story might be a little sly with that, a little objecting too much, given that the text appears magically regardless of where you are, in a manner that might seem to imply that a physical magical door might not be impossible. Whatever the case, the metaphorical door is powerful enough, able to take a person out of themselves for a while. Out of whatever trouble they are facing and into a...well, probably just as dangerous, just as grim situation. But one that still has a wonder to it, and still carries this sense that there is balance, and the grimness will not win the day. That hope is not something for fools. And there’s a real power in the idea of magic doors, which probably explains in part why that’s a popular trope in fantasy. And the story doesn’t deny that or turn away from it. Instead it leans in, crafting itself as both introduction to the idea and simultaneously a portal. A welcome to a class you didn’t know you were enrolled in. But it’s not too late. Just proceed further. Open the door, as it were, into the vast world beyond. It’s a charming and appropriate read, a second story sort of setting up the return of the publication, and its priorities and style. A fantastic read!
“To Look Forward” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (5099 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has a decision to make. Science or art or social science. What they’re going to do with the rest of their life. As they approach the end of junior high, the question looms larger and larger, pushed more and more by their mother. Only...they don’t know. Out of their friends, they are the only one that seems uncertain. There’s bold Mariam who can launch off her swing into the sun. There’s Ebuka, who wants to dance, wo can separate himself and send parts of himself all over the world. There’s quiet Funke, who can make it rain. But the narrator doesn’t know what they can do. They’ve always been so controlled, so careful, never fully embracing their spark, their iridescence. But that might be about to change. The story is fun, a coming-of-age story about the pressures to choose “the right path” and the way that sometimes the path chooses itself.
Keywords: School, Friends, Iridescence, Decisions, Swings
Review: I love the way the story draws the lines between the four friends, each of them different and each of them powerful, magical, full of iridescence. All except the narrator, who feels a bit left out, who feels this intense connection to the others but also like there’s this gulf. They’re a witness, staying inside their comfort zone, watched and reflecting on the others who go far outside that. Those who shine with the intentions and ambitions, their love and their brilliance. And there’s that question to answer, that pressure that the narrator feels to pick a future. And not sure what to do because their mother obviously doesn’t want them to do art. Wants them to be able to have “prospects” or whatever else people are supposed to have. The desire to make money, to be financially stable and successful. And they’re just not sure. They could follow in the footsteps of their friends, could borrow a bit of their certainly. But that makes them seem a bit chimeric, a bit like they would just be sponging off others. And...and that’s not quite right, though it does brush against an aspect of their personality, and by extension their desires. They are a storyteller. And I love how the story explores that idea. That in many ways their iridescence is a reflection, taking the light of others and capturing it, but in a way that changes it. That gives it maybe even more power, and that gives it maybe something of themself. And the realizing that it’s what they want to do is a wonderful moment, one of finally putting aside their fear and their guilt. Finally stepping out from the comfortable to really pursue this thing that beats in their heart, that gives them the fuel and strength to fly. A wonderful read!
“Love Laws and a Locked Heart” by Tamoha Sengupta (1078 words)
No Spoilers: Nivedita has lived with a locked heart since a man thus cursed her when she was just a baby. As she grows up, her father the king uses the fact she has a locked heart to make her into a warrior. A great archer and general. But just because she has a locked heart doesn’t mean she doesn’t develop feelings, and when she meets Ananya, something sparks. Her father doesn’t approve, though, and what follows is the fallout from that disapproval, the series of events that shape Nivedita’s path, that push her into making choices she wouldn’t have had to, had people just allowed her to herself. It’s a short but sweet read, defiant and fun and unyielding, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Keywords: Hearts, Locks, Princesses, Suitors, Arrows, Queer MC
Review: I love the way this story unfolds, the way that Nivedita is cursed from this young age by a man who wishes her ill, who wants to use her to take the throne. Who wants to hold her heart hostage. Indeed, everyone seems to want this, even the king, who sees his daughter’s love and declares it unnatural. Keeping her girlfriend alive only if Nivedita will agree to marry a man. And I love that Nivedita says Hell No to that, instead using the skills that she was also being used for, her archery skills that are more than enough to start reversing some of the misfortunes that have befallen her. because the truth is she doesn’t need the throne as much as it needs her. She manages to break her curse herself, unlocking her heart with a key made from memory and caring. And here I feel it twists away from most fairy tales, which are often a lot about people being meant to be because of a magic that neither of them really controls--mostly through curses that someone special must be able to break. Nivedita, though, is not a standard fairy tale princess, and not just because she can shoot a bow. Instead, she is different in that even with a locked heart she knows her mind. Knows that she doesn’t want the future that others have set out for her, and unlocking her heart only confirms that, only reveals what she’s known all along, that there’s nothing wrong with her, and that if she’s to have the happily ever after that she wants, she’s going to need to fight the system that wants her in a situation that would make her miserable. So she saves herself first and then saves her girlfriend and there’s a feeling that nothing is going to stop her. She’s not interested in playing by the rules that put her at a disadvantage because she’s a young woman. Those rules get thrown out, and she and her love start making new ones that can leave room for their happiness. An amazing read!
“things i love about my werewolf girlfriend” by May Chong
This story makes a compelling case for why everyone should have a werewolf for a significant other. Or, at least, it does a wonderful job explaining why the narrator is so smitten with theirs. Their werewolf girlfriend, who people might think is more liability than lover, on account of being hairy and wild, strong and untamed. There is a sense through the piece that the poem acknowledges the prejudices against werewolves by not mentioning them. By not even giving them the time of day. Instead, the piece focuses only on the reasons the narrator loves their girlfriend, and the ways specifically that being a werewolf isn’t just something she tolerates, but is a huge part of what she loves. And it is a wonderful rundown on why dating a werewolf is great, because werewolves are not by and large judgmental. They are passionate, they are appreciative, they are attentive, they are free. Their wildness is not a desire to harm but a desire to feel, and having that in someone else, someone who can appreciate and desire you, is invigorating. The relationship between the narrator and their girlfriend is alive, hot, and all sorts of adorable. They are a pair that goes well together, that can each love the other for who they are without getting bogged down in who they aren’t or who they’re supposed to be. The rest of the world might turn their nose up at werewolves, might insist that they’d make wretched romantic or plutonic partners, but there are those who know better. Who have loved a werewolf and been loved by one. And there’s magic there, and a completely fabulous poem!
“The Secret Ingredient is Always the Same” by Sarah Grey
This piece is framed as a progression of recipes, three in total, for cures for loves. Or, probably more accurately, cures for loves that end poorly. For loves that end in breakup, in heartbreak. And the cures are diverse, from wine and chocolate to a much more grim combination. From the arms of a new lover to reaching out for one that might be too far gone. The piece is full of yearning, and a quiet knowing of things that seem only to come with experience, with having lived it. And in that the piece feels in some ways it’s own ingredient, a way for the narrator to try and cast a broken heart like something that has a cure. When, really, it doesn’t. Not really. There are some things that can be recovered from, and some things to help that, but for me the piece sort of ends on this idea that there are some things that have no cure. That are too profound, and if there is no reversal, if there is no miracle, then all you can hope for is a kind of obliteration complete enough to take the pain away. It’s in some ways a grim piece in that, though most of the sections have a lot of charm, too, a kind of commiseration that allows the narrator to give this advice, to get across that for many breakups things get better. And there’s the secret ingredient. The one that the title alludes to but the text of the poem never actually states. It remains up to the reader to decide if there actually is a secret ingredient that unites all the different cures, or if it’s a bit of a feint. For me, I see the linkage, the secret ingredient, as time. The only think that stands a good chance of working. Not something that can be eaten or taken, not a place to visit to receive absolution. Just time. For the heart to heal. For it to open to the possibility of being broken all over again. And it makes for a lovely and moving way to close out the return issue of Fantasy Magazine!