REVIEW: “The Knighting” by Alexa Fae McDaniel

Review of Alexa Fae McDaniel, “The Knighting” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 83-91 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Daphne has long admired Sir Thais — the first woman of Epirus to ever have been knighted. Now, two more women have become knights, but female knights are still the minority. Part of Daphne longs to be what Sir Thais is, but another part of her knows she could never be what Sir Thais is; not because she’s a woman, but because she’s a transwoman.

The focus of this story was Daphne’s grappling with the difficulties of being a transwoman in a male dominated field. As a cis woman, I realised I would probably make many of the same arguments that Sir Thais did, to persuade Daphne to take up the accolade; so it was important for me to read Daphne’s arguments in return. Now, I’m not so sure which choice Daphne should make, or even, at the end of the story, which choice she did make.

REVIEW: “Freeing the Bitch” by Ellen Mellor

Review of Ellen Mellor, “Freeing the Bitch” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 65-82 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Explicit misgendering and some internalised transphobia.

It’s funny the little things that can catch you out when reading a story: I was so distracted by the fact that two of the MCs started a forest fire and then proceeded to do nothing about it (including showing remorse) that I could hardly pay attention to the rest of what was going on.

That distraction aside, I enjoyed the multi-species cast (all varying flavors of queerness!), and can’t help but approve of a story that tells us: “There is nothing we can’t do because we are amazing women” (p. 72).

REVIEW: “Potions and Practices” by gwynception

Review of gwynception, “Potions and Practices” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 50-64 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m not sure if this story suffered from a lack of thorough proofreading, or if the duplicated phrases and weird sentences that felt like they were missing words were intentional, but whichever is the explanation, I found the prose of this story difficult to read; quite a bit of the time, I really wasn’t sure what was going on. Then again, the same is also said by Violet, the MC: “I’m sorry I’m not sure if I know what you’re talking about” (p. 52), so maybe the gappy and repetitive writing was intentional. I’m afraid, though, that this wasn’t a story for me.

REVIEW: “The Vixen, With Death Pursuing” by Izzy Wasserstein

Review of Izzy Wasserstein, “The Vixen, With Death Pursuing” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 39-49 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The titular death that is pursuing the vulpemancer is a pestimancer, a pestilence-mage. He first attacked Ravenna, the fox-mage’s lover, and how the fox-mage is the only one left who can find the herbs that will heal Ravenna and all the other struck down by blood lung. But in order to escape the vulpemancer and bring the herbs back, the fox-mage is faced with a dangerous, and potentially life-altering choice.

In this strongly written, compelling story, Wasserstein gives us a different take on what being trans.

REVIEW: “Forest’s Edge” by Audrey Vest

Review of Audrey Vest, “Forest’s Edge” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 26-38 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Denya’s daughter, Eliya, is ill — caught in the clutches of a fairy chill that only fey broth can cure. For that, Denya must go into the woods that are the gateway to Fairy, into the very forest that her wife Bren went into three years ago and never came back out of.

There was never any doubt that this story would have a happy ending, but that doesn’t make the happy ending any less satisfying.

REVIEW: “Mountain God” by Gwen Benaway

Review of Gwen Benaway, “Mountain God” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 7-25 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: A lot of death.

The mage Aoyas has three strikes against her: She’s a mercenary; she was born in Lerani, the most recently conquered and still not quite subjugated province of the Empire; and she is a Marked woman, someone who has changed her born gender. Her mercenary partner Rais isn’t that much better; he was born in the capital city but his father was an outlander who abandoned him and his mother when he was young. Neither Aoyas nor Rais set out to become mercenaries, but fate put them in each other’s paths and together they became lovers and survived their first — hardest — year of mercenarying.

It took five-and-a-half pages to set up all the history and backdrop for the story, rather a long in something only about 20 pages long; but I’m a sucker for good worldbuilding so the lack of action or activity didn’t bother me too much. I was surprised at how transphobic and misogynistic the setting was — it made me sad that Aoyas didn’t get a better story, a better life. While some people might say she got her happily ever after, I’m not entirely convinced.

REVIEW: Maiden, Mother, Crone edited by Gwen Benaway

Review of Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Recently I took a trip down to York to visit a friend, and she did what the good friends do and took me around the good bookstores. One of these was the Portal Bookshop, full of queer and SFF books. It’s been so long since I’ve been to a brick-and-mortar bookstore that has books in it that I actually want to buy, that I may have ended up buying more than I could carry…including this anthology.

I was not familiar with it before seeing it on the shelf, but it immediately appealed to me. Benaway in her editorial introduction says that she wanted the book to be

a space for other trans women and trans feminine folk to write fantastical short stories where trans folks were the main characters

and the collection bills itself as “the first anthology by trans femme authors to explore the realms of magic, supernatural beings, and alternative universes”. I can only hope that it won’t be the last, because collections like this are so rich and so valuable.

As is usual, we’ll review each of the stories individually, and link the reviews back here when they’re published:

I was surprised at how many of the stories reinforced the gender binary, or included structural misogyny. It made my heart sad for so many of these women, and for women reading this anthology who may be looking for more than just triumph-over-adversity, moving on to fantasy worlds where being trans is hardly worth commenting on. One of the powers of fiction is that it can provide us with models of ways the world can be, because sometimes it is easier to change the actual world into a more ideal world if we have an idea of what the more ideal world could actually look like, and I confess I had expected a bit more idealism and a bit less realism.