REVIEW: “Tangled Nets” by Ana Mardoll

Review of Ana Mardoll, “Tangled Nets”, in No Man of Woman Born (Acacia Moon Publishing, 2018): 1-21 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Violence, bloodshed, community ableism, sacrificial victims, self-sacrifice

The life of a fisher is a life of routine and ritual — mending the nets, catching the fish, sorting the fish: “the routine was comforting in its familiarity” (p. 2). But the routine of Wren the fisher is broken when xer sister Dwynwen dies and xie must continue to care for their mother Eirlys, never strong and frailer now after the death of her daughter. It was no accidental death or sickness that took Dwynwen, and Wren’s quest is to prevent anyone else from ever dying that way again. But the witch had prophesied that “no man or woman” could ever defeat the dragon…

Mardoll gives us history and detail without overburderning us with information, and every step along the way we are rooting for Wren’s success. Sometimes the most satisfying of stories are ones that set up expectations — or play directly into expectations grounded in a shared literary culture (in this case, western fairy tales) — precisely so that they are met. There is nothing unexpected, there is no surprising twist, everything in this story works the way it should and it is so satisfying.

REVIEW: No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll

Review of Ana Mardoll, No Man of Woman Born (Acacia Moon Publishing, 2018) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a book of stories written for the “trans child hiding with a book under a pink duvet” (p. x), of stories that center the trans, nonbinary, those whose genders “break, subvert, and fulfill” prophecies (p. xi). It is the stories of heros and heroines who “aren’t special because they are trans, they are special and they are trans” (p. xi).

I’d been hearing the hype about this book on twitter for a few months, but somehow it wasn’t until about a week before it came out that someone actually mentioned that it was a book of short stories, at which my “want-to-read” radar started dinging even louder. Hey!, I thought, I could review it for SFFReviews, and therefore justifying buying it! (I have a very complex relationship with purchasing new fiction, and it involves intricate justifications to stave off irrational guilt.) But one thing that worried me was that I wasn’t at all sure that my cis-woman’s opinion about these stories was really one that needed to be all that loud in the conversation — or even if it should be present at all.

But Ana is a truly excellent human being, and when I expressed my uncertainty to xer on twitter, xie responded immensely generously to my worries, and encouraged me to not only buy xer book (as well xie should!) but also review it. I’m so glad, because it is a real treat, and while I am manifestly not the target audience for these stories, it is my hope that I can boost the signal not only for those who are, but for others like me, who simply want to read beautiful stories well written. These stories may not have been written for me, but I have been benefited, entertained, and enthralled by reading them.

As is our practice on this site, I’ll review the stories individually and link them back to this post when they’re published. Each story comes with their own content warning, which I reproduce here so that people are informed before clicking through to the review.

  • “Tangled Nets” (content note: Violence, Bloodshed, Community Ableism, Sacrificial Victims, Self-Sacrifice)
  • “King’s Favor” (content note: Border Walls, Population Purges, Violence, Self-Harm)
  • “His Father’s Son” (content note: Violence and Sexualized Violence; Bloodshed; Death of Family, Parents, and Minor Children)
  • “Daughter of Kings” (content note: Misgendering, Parental Bigotry, Parental Death)
  • “Early to Rise” (content note: Magical Curses, Non-Consensual Kissing, Self-Harm)
  • “No Man Of Woman Born” (content note: Governmental Oppression, Emergency Cesarean Births, Rape)
  • “The Wish-Giver”

The stories are all long and lush, fully developed and described. I have only two complaints about the book: First, it isn’t long enough — only seven stories! I want more! — Second, it doesn’t have any pictures. I’d love to read these stories to my 6 year old daughter, but she still doesn’t have enough patience for long stories unless there are pictures. Both of these complaints are solvable: Ana Mardoll can write more stories, and I can sit down one day with my paints and paint my own illustrations for my daughter. Maybe I’ll read her the stories in pieces and we can paint pictures of them together.