REVIEW: “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde

Review of Fran Wilde, “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand”, Uncanny Magazine 18 (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

Uncanny Issue 18 is certainly high on horror, and Fran Wilde’s “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” should be your top choice if you’re looking for a scary read. It’s a disturbing, opaque trip into an old-fashioned freak show; directed by one of the people who plays a part in the show. The reader is personally engaged at every step as the narrator addresses all their instructions on how to progress through the show to ‘you’. This encourages the reader to quickly insert themselves into the story, and to experience all of Wilde’s cleverly crafted horror up close. As the narrator draws the reader on through a selection of increasingly disturbing scenes, this use of the word ‘you’, which is both impersonal and personal, enhances the story’s creepy power.  

“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” feels reminiscent of Alyssa Wong’s style. It’s darkly bitter, and visits quite perfect, and quite disturbing, magical punishment on those who do wrong. Let’s just say ‘you’ do not come out of this encounter well. It’s not quite a revenge story; the punishment is too impersonal to call it revenge. It’s more about punishing society for their stares, words, and medical experiments. Punishing slowly; one person at a time. The reader is left with the feeling that the narrator will always remain, and that they have eternity to teach visitor after visitor a lesson.

And oh that narrator is tricky. They open the story by seeming to show the reader a safe way through the exhibitions. However, once the story is finished, it becomes clear that they planned to trap their visitor all along. ‘Your hands are beautiful, did you know that?’ has never been quite so chilling.

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Bookseller, story lover, reviewer. I also review at Lady Business and SFF Reviews.

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