Archive for the ‘fantasy magazine’ Category
I’m always a bit fascinated by what editors choose as the pull quote for stories. The pull quote for Bitterdark is:
Mizein had become a summer queen, clad in brilliant color: a gown of iris petals, deep blue veined in purple; ropes of lapis, amethysts, amber; hair as brown as wild earth.
Which for me on the do-I-want-to-read-it scale is a pretty decided “meh.”
I’d be more compelled by the story open:
The faerie sleep only a little, a few sluggish heartbeats in bowers of pine and slate—but once-kings not at all.
Aelyn lay awake in his mortal wife’s bed while she snored. He counted the tiny countries bordered by eggshell cracks in the ceiling—six hundred and three, never more, never less.
But if I were picking I think I’d go for:
These mortals had their own magic: loud voices and fists and bluster. Mizein didn’t like them at all. They were worse than the Bitterdark, these brutish old women.
In the actual pull quote we mostly learn that this is going to be a story about fairies. There are a lot of stories about fairies, and lots of stories about summer queens. The descriptions aren’t particularly memorable and there isn’t really a reason for me to click on the story.
In the story open, I think there’s more to draw you in. That fairies don’t sleep is new to me, and I like the juxtaposition with the mundane activities Aelyn occupies himself with during the night.
Why do I like my chosen pull-quote? I like the sense of a human magic made up of utterly mundane things I like the idea of a not-mortal creature being a bit cowed by them. It nicely turns on its head the usual relationship of fairies and mortals, and I like the slightly petulant tone of it. (ok, if it were really a pull quote I wouldn’t know they were fairies, but I would soon.)
I enjoyed the first half of this story because of the interaction of Aelyn and his mortal spouse. But there’s a twist and it’s one that doesn’t go for me, so the ending fell flat.
Bloodlines is one of those stories that feels not so much like a self contained short story, but the start to a YA novel and I think if it were the beginning to a novel, I’d find it more successful.
I think what it does well – developing the setting and the worldbuilding is what makes it not quite work for me as a short story – I feel like there’s too much puttering around and not enough story momentum. For a story that’s a mere 4,000 words long, my initial impression was that it could have lost 1,000 words. (Ok, probably really only 500.)
At the start of the story the narrator is the typical ugly duckling who hasn’t yet blossomed into her witchy powers (And she doesn’t believe that it will ever happen.) She is friends with her cousin (who does not share the witch bloodline) and much of the story involves the two of them observing their cousin Elena who has just been dumped and wants revenge. And because she’s a witch, she can get it. The narrator intervenes and scares the ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend out of town. When Elena finds out, her wrath is focused on the narrator. But when Jacinta defends the narrator, Elena’s attention turns to revenging herself on Jacinta. That’s when the narrator turns into a witchy swan and kicks Elena’s ass. The coda to the story is the narrator assuring Jacinta that they will always be close despite the fact that she’s a powerful witch now.
I think that’s the story I wanted to read – the one that focused on their relationship and how it changed over time as inevitably the narrator (and Jacinta) became new people as they grew up.
Sometimes when I read a story I think I can identify the kernel of the story, where the idea sprang from with the rest to be built around it. In Stem, Stone, and Bone, I think it was the idea of a woman giving birth to a stone
Jacinta, however, was nothing but Jacinta, a woman and a worker who could couple with the city men or a visiting stranger, and at the end of nine months, out of her belly would drop nothing but a stone. She’d done it only once, before forsaking the company of men entirely. Nine months of hope and discomfort followed by the wretched agony of a rock the size of a cacao pod ripping her insides outward to lie bloody on the end of her bed. Once was enough.
Jacinda lives in the Shining City, a city made rich on the cacao trade. Instead of enslaved children on the Ivory Coast harvesting cacao, in this world the exploitation takes the form of a magic that changed the cacao seeds to beetles and made every animal within the radius of the spell infertile. Women, dogs, bird all give birth to stones of different sorts. Jacinda was one of the last children and the realization that her home is dying smacks her in the face one day when she is speaking with the last child, Xoch.
She thinks maybe she can seduce one of the Mineral Men who cast the spell and get them to break it, then she heartbreakingly spreads the blood of one of the cacao beetles on her own stone, her child that wasn’t. Lastly she tries to conceive another child away from her city but that fails as well.
Message stories so very often look like MESSAGE and
story but Taber doesn’t allow the message to overwhelm the story, and does so without pulling punches – so if you are thinking there’s a happy ending, think again. (But she really nails the last line – Charlie Finlay once told me that 30% of the impact of a story was in the last line and I think that’s true here.)
This is their present. This is their future. There is no hope.