365 Days of Women Writers

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Day 34: Maiden, Mother, Crone by Anne Leckie and Rachel Swirsky

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Realms of Fantasy went defunct (again) this week, but they’ve made a pdf of their final issue available.

Maiden, Mother, Crone is the sort of story that makes me sad that it’s gone.

It starts familiarly enough with a woman who is running away because she’s pregnant, from a family who disdains her. It’s a world of magic where women with power are marked:

Marked on the arm, a witch can cast harm.
Marked on the face, she’s a healing embrace.
Marked on the heart, and love is her art.
Marked on the thigh, and let out a sigh—
She may do it all, but it all goes awry.

And marked women are murdered by the followers of the solitary god. Marjan is marked and there will be no hiding it once her daughter is born. She thinks her mother-in-law despises her and would kill her if only Irensa knew what she was. But her mother-in-law surprises her:

“Your baby’s coming? Here? Now?” Iresna shook her head. “I hope you’re happy. Now we’ll all die.”

She moved quickly across the snow to Marjan’s side. Marjan tried to fight her off, but Iresna was not tired from long, futile hours of riding.

“Hold still, girl,” said Iresna. “We’ll argue later.”

Her mother-in-law already knows her secret:

“Iresna!” Marjan said, urgently. “Please, you and Gavek have to go. Don’t ask me to explain. It’s better you don’t know.”

“Marjan,” said Iresna, “how could I not know?” The older woman’s eyes flickered down to the spot of brightness at Marjan’s hip. It was glowing brighter than the
lantern now, bathing Marjan in scarlet light.

I liked the worldbuilding in this story – the hints of the magic held by women that the priests fear and attempt to stamp out feels large and real and easily ties in with our own world.

I also liked that Marjan misjudged her mother-in-law. Irensa once had a marked sister who was killed by her father. She’s a woman who loves her grandchild more than she fears power.

And I like the hint of vengeance awaiting at the end:

Marjan hadn’t told Iresna or Gavek, but she had a plan. She would ride through Dellosert, and beyond if necessary, until her Mark began to glow once more, and then she would finally meet her mother.

She wondered how many people still knew the second verse of the witch’s rhyme, the forbidden one her foster mother had whispered when she was small:

One witch alone is tragic.
Two witches fill their days with magic.
Three witches who together dwell
can fold the world inside their spell.

Marjan spoke the words like a charm. They gave her hope as she descended the mountain.

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Written by Chance

October 21, 2010 at 7:39 pm