Today I’m reviewing some (mostly queer) short fiction I’ve read this month, including The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion by Lynn E. O’Connacht and short stories by some of my favorite authors.
The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion is a retelling of Trushbeard following an asexual lesbian princess and an aroace queen. This novella follows a queerplatonic relationship, and diverse fairytale retellings are always something I’m looking for.
This is a fantasy book about two people who experience aphobia getting together and supporting each other, about the way an aphobic society doesn’t see relationships that aren’t romantic or sexual as worthy and important as the ones that are.
However, the way this story was written didn’t work for me. I appreciated what it was doing, but I couldn’t get into the format. This novella is told in verse and the characters are telling the story of how they met to each other, interrupting each other often. I think I would have liked this more if it had been told another way; this kind of storytelling adds distance between the reader and the events.
While the distance made this book an easier read at times – there’s a difference between reading a scene about forced kissing in a traditional format and reading it this way, because you know the characters are fine now – it also made me feel disconnected from everything. I liked reading about Edel and Marian, I liked their banter, and it’s always great to read something in which a non-romantic queer relationship is centered, but I didn’t feel strongly about these characters or their relationship.
My rating: ★★¾
I received an ARC (advanced reader copy) from the author. All opinions are my own.
By Claw, By Hand, By Silent Speech by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry & A. Merc Rustad, Uncanny Magazine, Issue Twenty-Three – ★★★★
This story follows a Deaf paleontologist who is trying to communicate with a velociraptor through sign language. I love reading stories about humans interacting with animals, and it becomes objectively more interesting when the main characters are a scientist (…disabled women in science!) and a dinosaur. I loved seeing how the characters learned to understand (and not eat) each other. Anyway, I would have read more of this – if not a whole book, at least a novella – to know more about both the main character and Velma the velociraptor.
Court of Birth, Court of Strength by Aliette de Bodard, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue #261 – ★★★★★
This is a prequel set in the world of The House of Shattered Wings and it’s the story of how Samariel and Asmodeus met. I love everything about this world and its characters, so when I knew this existed, I started reading it immediately. It confirmed that I love Asmodeus a lot and it also made me understand that I’ll suffer when I’ll reread the first book in this series. I loved these two as a couple far more than I wanted. I mean, the premise of “gay fallen angels trying to find a lost child in post-apocalyptic Paris, featuring lots of flirting and questionable morals” would have sounded awesome even if I hadn’t already known the characters in question, and I’m pretty sure you don’t need to know them to enjoy this, but knowing the context adds a lot. Now I want to know what’s up with House Harrier…
Another thing I liked was how this story talked about loyalty and whether the end justifies the means – would you save a child if doing so would risk starting a war? (Why do I like it so much when characters are in all-around terrible situations and everyone is wrong?)
A Taxonomy of Hurts by Kate Dollarhyde, Fireside Magazine, Issue #58 – ★★★½
I loved the premise of this story – it’s set in a world in which people’s painful memories have a shape. The narrator is able to see them and touch them, and they get obsessed with classifying them (hence the “taxonomy”). They also want to know how their own hurts look like. I liked the message about trauma and supporting each other inside a relationship, but the story itself was very short and not that memorable. However, every story that mentions the fungus Laccaria amethystina is a good story.
Between the Firmaments by JY Yang, serialized story on thebooksmugglers.com (first link is part one, here are part two and part three) – ★★★★
This serialized story follows two gods, Bariegh of the Jungle and Sunyol, as they fall in love in a city in which being a god is both forbidden and dangerous. This is a story about what colonization does to a country and its culture – Bariegh, Sunyol and young Sisu live in a place in which the colonizers, the “blasphemers”, have found a way to trap and harvest magic from gods, so they have to stay hidden. But it’s also a story about belonging, finding your own people, and reclaiming what was yours in the first place.
I really liked the queer romance, but what I loved the most about this story was the writing: I loved Bariegh’s narration and the descriptions of the magic.
Starsong by Tehlor Kay Mejia in Toil & Trouble, edited by Jessica Spotswood & Tess Sharpe – ★★★★½
I loved this one! It follows a latinx witch whose magic is tied to stars and astrology. It’s a modern-day story about recovery, finding hope in yourself and your life again, and the cute beginning of an f/f romance. I would read at least a novella of this, I loved Luna and I want to know more about the girl she met through instagram.
[This is probably the only time the short story I was interested in out of an entire anthology is at the beginning, so that I can get it for free by reading the preview on google play.]
The Coin of Heart’s Desire by Yoon Ha Lee, Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 100, reprinted from Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales, edited by Paula Guran – ★★★★★
This one surprised me. Not because of the beautiful descriptions or the fact that the worldbuilding is really good for a very short fairytale, as I expect all of those things from Yoon Ha Lee’s short fiction. This time, I just really didn’t see the ending coming. This is a story about a teenage empress, dragons, and bargains. Some aspects of it were inspired by Korean folklore. I always fall in love with Lee’s worlds and now I want to know more about this one too.
Have you read any good short fiction lately?