REVIEW: “The Mercenary” by Beth McCabe

Review of Beth McCabe, “The Mercenary”, Luna Station Quarterly 31: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

“The Mercenary” is a classic story of boy-ditches-girl, girl-becomes-a-time-traveller. Oh, wait, that isn’t actually one of the classic story lines? Well, there are worse reasons to become a time-traveller than being ditched for another girl.

On the other hand, there are plenty of other reasons why a girl might join a guild of time travellers, and sometimes it pays to extend beyond the standard tropes whereby the heroine needs to be thwarted in love before she can assume her agency as a heroine. When a narrator tells me

But I had never let go of my heartbreak – or my obsession.

my first thought is “Well, here’s a character who’s got a long arc ahead of her.”

Unfortunately, much of the early part of the story is spent rehearsing the past, rather than actually traversing that needed arc. When we do start moving forward, it doesn’t take long until we reach the “ahah” moment — the moment at which I go, “I bet I know how this is going to end.” I do like moments like that because then I can spend the rest of the story feeling smug, either to have that smugness confirmed when I am proven right or to have the delightful surprise when I am proven wrong. [Spoiler: In this case, I was right!]

On the other hand again, what I really want is a story that doesn’t have any of those moments, where every step is a surprise, where I have no idea where things are going to end up. Familiarity is comforting, but this story could have made me a bit more uncomfortable.

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