Content note: Governmental oppression, mention of emergency C-section and rape.
When Mardoll said in the introduction that the characters inside “break, subvert, and fulfil the same gendered prophecies” that cis characters get in other stories, we were meant to take this quite literally, as is clear in the number of overt prophecies and oracles that occur in the stories. “No Man of Woman Born” opens with a prophecy, that no man of woman born can harm Fearghas. The prophecy was “unambiguous” and had “independent verification” (p. 139). So of course, nothing could possibly go wrong…But of course not. What is human nature but to exploit constraints, to try to find the loopholes? Schools for training women, children, or animals to fight sprang up all over, all headed by someone seeking to harm the king.
This story is centered around the prophecy, and the way it has shaped the lives of the people it does or could apply to. But even as the prophecy dictated the actions of so many, one thing I loved was the recognition that one did not need to have a prophecy to be heroic: “I’m choosing to believe I have the capacity to become the hero until proven otherwise,” Sìne tells Innes (p. 138) when a new prophecy is published that would seem to exclude her.
There are many aspects of this story that I suspect would speak directly to many people whose life experiences are very different from my own. Not having had those experiences, this story did not speak to me as much as some of the others in the anthology, but that doesn’t really matter, because I’m not the intended audience. For the intended audience — people who are coming to terms with their own gender, or newly coming to terms with the gender of a close friend or loved one — there is a lot in this story that provides models for how to react and to behave.
It’s also where we get our third set of neopronouns in the collection: “kie”/”kir”. Strangely, I didn’t find them as difficult as “nee”/”ner”, which makes me wonder about the linguistic psychology of these new words, and why some of them work so easily as pronouns while others are more cognitively difficult. (Someone do a study on this! And then do a follow-up study on how the cognitive load is lessened after repeated exposure, so that we can do things like have cis people read these stories and thereby up the amount of passive absorption of a variety of pronouns!)