REVIEW: “Eight-Step Kōan” by Anya Ow

Review of Anya Ow, “Eight-Step Kōan”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 103-113. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was a beautiful story, of Shyenmu and her mother, who had driven away the dragon that poisoned the river with a seven-step quatrain; of Shyenmu and her own daughter, Mirren, died but a month gone from the water of another dragon-poisoned river; of Shyenmu and her granddaughter, Mirren’s daughter, Kaeyen, and how the two of them set off to see if they can do what Shyenmu’s mother, Kaeyen’s great-grandmother, died: to find the words of power that will shame the dragon and make him leave. It is a story of love and sacrifice, of selfishness and regret.

There were so many layers to the story, getting deeper and deeper as I read, full of myth and detail and great feeling — and the author’s note at the end provides added background. Highly recommended.

REVIEW: “Big Mother” by Anya Ow

Review of Anya Ow, “Big Mother”, Strange Horizons 1 Jan. 2018: Read online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

There’s something both horrific and beautiful about the story Anya Ow narrates in “Big Mother.” It effortlessly combines the terror of meeting something strange in the dark with a childhood nostalgia and sense of loss for the wild places of the world.

In “Big Mother,” the narrator recounts an experience she had as a young girl with her brother and three neighbor children. The children go fishing in the dark, searching for a snakehead, and accidentally hook something more dangerous. When the lure proves too strong for the oldest boy, the narrator must lead the other children to his rescue.

The story has something of the feel of Stranger Things to it, in that its climax revolves around one child going missing and his friends searching for him. It’s got a creepy creature too: the eponymous Big Mother, which the children dredge out of the canal. Though it starts a little slow, the horror element pulses strongly in the story’s middle and through the climax. It will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Our heroine is exactly what you would want in a horror story, bold and brave despite her fear. It is she and she alone that walks into the water to meet Big Mother, and she rescues the oldest boy by talking the monster down. The story concludes with a present-day epilogue, where we see how this childhood event resonated down through the narrator’s life and how sad she is that the modern world is swallowing the spaces where magic once dwelt.

It’s a beautiful tale, well-told and memorable in its execution from start to finish.