REVIEW: “Under Her White Stars” by Jacob Budenz

Review of Jacob Budenz, “Under Her White Stars”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 106-126 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

I was very glad that this, the final story in the anthology, was one of the longer ones, because it meant that the time I’d be finished with the anthology would be put off. All of the stories in this book have captured so well the desired goal/theme of the anthology, and this capping story didn’t disappoint either.

I loved this story of a freelance witch who cobbles together his living by sometimes working as a healer, sometimes as a seller of spells, and sometimes a witch-hunter. We never learn his name, but his target is Amarande, a witch down south who runs a convenience store and is conning his customers into giving them their souls so that he can be immortal, and he’s got it all planned out…except what he didn’t plan for was his fiancé Lionel coming along with him.

As soon as Lionel wormed his way into the plan, ready to play the role of bait so that the witch could capture Amarande, I read the rest of the story on tenterhooks: Would it have a happy ending? Would it have a sad ending?

It’d be spoilers to tell you, so I’ll just say this: It had exactly the right ending that both the story and the anthology needed.

REVIEW: “Dissonance, Part I” by D. M. Rice

Review of D. M. Rice, “Dissonance, Part I”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 94-105 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

What a strange story! Rice’s piece straddles the boundary between experimental prose and long-form poetry, combining non-standard typesetting, plenty of capitals, italics, and bold, broken and incomplete words, and disjointed/uncertain narration and yet still ending up with a clear voice and distinctive characters — Sir Talon, the narrator; Alfa Behn, whom he asks out on a date; Maestro Belfast, Ezra Gentle, the Elemental Countess of Norwooq, others.

Because of the presentation of the story, it was hard work to read; I had to concentrate on every single individual word, in a way that I don’t ordinarily when reading blocks of prose, when I can take in phrases at a time. I’m still uncertain whether I think the experimental format benefited the story or detracted from it; I suspect that’s something best left to each reader to decide for themself! But if this is Part I, I definitely want to read Part II!

REVIEW: “Your Heart in My Teeth” by V. Medina

Review of V. Medina, “Your Heart in My Teeth”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 82-93 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

A city is made of its people. It only make sense that [its heart] would be human (p. 92)

“You,” we are told in the opening sentence, “find yourself going to the street corner where he died” (p. 82). And yet, though the whole story is told in 2nd person POV, it doesn’t feel — like so many 2nd person POV stories do — to me like some external/omniscient narrator is telling me what I am doing, thinking, feeling. Instead, it feels much more like the narrator is narrating the story to himself, that he is trying to fit the broken pieces of his life back together into a pattern that makes sense.

There’s really no cues indicating how this POV should be read here, but it’s certainly possible to read the story this way, and that’s how I read it, as a story between a narrator and his dead lover, who died in a car crash on that corner, where a little grocer sits. This is the first of the stories in this anthology that has a rather creepy undertone of horror to it, and there is an ambiguity to the ending that I liked a lot. I am also continually impressed at how each of the stories fits into the theme of the anthology as a whole, even when they contain grand statements about the nature of the city itself.

REVIEW: “The Plague-Eater” by Caspian Gray

Review of Caspian Gray, “The Plague-Eater”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 65-81 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

From the start of the story, a few things are clear: Todd, Miguel, and Pills have the comfortable rapport of the best of friends, and Pills is very ill.

What do two friends do when a third is sick? Anything they can to help, it turns out, and for Miguel, that “anything” includes seeking out a night nurse to help care for her — and not any old night nurse, but a plague-eater. (The fact that he can invite Todd along on a not-a-date is an added bonus.)

This was a wonderfully done story — there’s fantasy, with Miguel’s pursuit of the plague eater; there’s romance, between Miguel and Todd; but the central themes that run through the story are deeper, sadder. Pills’ slow succumbing to cancer. The importance of chosen-families. The isolation of blood-family rejection. — which keeps the reader on the edge of uncertainty concerning the outcome, right all the way up until the very end.

REVIEW: “Familiar” by kx carys

Review of kx carys, “Familiar”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 63-64 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Another vignette-type piece, “Familiar” is a brief slice in the live of Margaux and Cassia, witches and lovers. Cassia needs a familiar, and she wants a raven; Margaux thinks that’s gauche. Cassia doesn’t want another cat, and eventually she brings Margaux around.

Because the story was so short, there was little character development or anything else to give me a sense of why the resolution came about the way that it did. I would have liked to have seen more, to have this turned into a rounder, deeper story. But I’m glad Cassia got her raven in the end.

REVIEW: “Venus Conjunct Saturn” by Claire Rudy Foster

Review of Claire Rudy Foster, “Venus Conjunct Saturn”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 48-62 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Angie knows better than to give any credit to her horoscope. After all, she’s an actual scientist, and “She knew astrology was a qualitative, atmospheric science, like meteorology” (p. 48; dear reader, I may have snorked my tea reading that line.) Birthdays shouldn’t matter. The stars and planets aligning in the skies shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter that all the signs point against “Venus Conjunct Saturn”: Angie was going to go out with Kate anyway.

In an anthology that wants to center queer characters, this story does a great job. Angie is trans; Kate is bisexual. These things matter to the story, of course,—of course they do, how could they not?—but they somehow manage to be both the focus of the story and not the focus of the story at the same time. For awhile in the middle I was desperately worried that everything was going to go wrong for Angie and Kate but — spoiler — it doesn’t.

We need more happy ending stories like this one.

REVIEW: “In the Strange Places in the City” by Meghan Cunningham

Review of Meghan Cunningham, “In the Strange Places in the City”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 45-47 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This is more a series of vignettes than a story, painting six little pictures of the city. The little scenes are each lovely and evocative, but I find I don’t have much more to say about this piece than that.