REVIEW: “La Ciguapa, For the Reeds, For Herself” by J.M. Guzman

Review of J.M. Guzman, “La Ciguapa, For the Reeds, For Herself”, Apex Magazine 111 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Sandra’s husband hunts La Ciguapa with her dog. One rainy night, when she has grown sick of how he treats her, she has her dog lead her to the monster herself. Le Ciguapa, who prefers to be called Josefina, helps Sandra, first to dry off, and later to start a new life. But first, she shows Sandra her graveship.

The narration in this story is fascinating. The speaker is alternately talking to a brother and a sister. She tells them the same story, explains the same things, but in different ways and in radically different tones. I found that confusing at first, but once I settled into the rhythm, it brought a greater depth to an already complex story.

I feel like much of this story went over my head. It spans three generations, and while there is a common thread between them, I was not entirely sure what was happening sometimes. That is probably my own fault: according to my research, Le Ciguapa is a figure from Dominican folklore, and as such, it is distinctly possible that this story draws on cultural understandings and experiences that I do not share. But even if I didn’t fully follow the narrative, the emotional resonance came through loud and clear, and that kept me riveted to every word.

I have rarely seen a story that projects such raw anger. Not the bonfire of a momentary rage, but the banked coals that have waited for decades to rise up and consume, directed by and for a clear purpose. This is righteous rage that makes no apologies and takes no excuses.

This is a story of oppression and fear and patience. It is beautiful and powerful, and well-worth reading, as long as you are not wedded to clear, linear plots.

REVIEW: Sword and Sonnet, edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler

Review of Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but in this collection of twenty-three stories, pen and sword come together in a glorious celebration of female and non-binary battle poets. Some of the poets eulogise — or problematise — battles after they happen; others fight battles through their poetry, with the very fact that they write a weapon in a greater war. Not all of the poets are in fact writers; some only need the spoken or thought word. Some fight for revolution. Some fight for peace. Some fight for a sense of self; some, to protect others. The diversity of topics and plots is both broad and deep.

In the editor’s introduction, they note that one of the editors “once received a rejection for a story featuring a battle poet with the comment that ‘unsympathetic protagonists were a difficult sell'”. Maybe that’s true: But I couldn’t tell you because there were no unsympathetic protagonists in these stories. Even the protagonists who have, whether rightly or wrongly, ended up on the wrong side of history are still poets that one can feel something for.

Each story is accompanied with an author’s note of how the story came to be, or what the author hoped to do via the story. These little “biographies” of the story I really enjoyed, particularly how many of them went along the lines of “I intended to write an entirely different story altogether, but ended up writing this one instead.”

As is usual, we’ll review each story individually and link the posts back here as they are published:

  • “Words in an Unfinished Poem” by A. C. Wise
  • “A Subtle Fire Beneath the Skin” by Hayley Stone
  • “As For Peace, Call It Murder” by C. S. E. Cooney
  • “She Calls Down the Future in the Footprints Left Behind” by Setsu Uzumé
  • “Candied Sweets, Cornbread, and Black-eyed Peas” by Malon Edwards
  • “El Cantar de la Reina Bruja” by Victoria Sandbrook
  • “The Other Foot” by Margo Lanagan
  • “Eight-Step Kōan” by Anya Ow
  • “The Firefly Beast” by Tony Pi
  • “Her Poems Are Inked in Fears and Blood” by Kira Lees
  • “The Words of Our Enemies, The Words Of Our Hearts” by A. Merc Rustad
  • “Labyrinth, Sanctuary” by A.E. Prevost
  • “Heartwood, Sapwood, Spring” by Suzanne J. Willis
  • “The Bone Poet and God” by Matt Dovey
  • “And The Ghosts Sang With Her: A Tale of The Lyrist” by Spencer Ellsworth
  • “Dulce et Decorum” by S. L. Huang
  • “The Fiddler at the Heart of the World” by Samantha Henderson
  • “She Searches for God in the Storm Within” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali
  • “A Voice in Many Different Forms” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu
  • “Recite Her the Names of Pain” by Cassandra Khaw
  • “Siren” by Alex Acks
  • “This Lexicon of Bone and Feathers” by Carlie St. George
  • “Dark Clouds & Silver Linings” by Ingrid Garcia

These stories reward both reading and rereading, both to oneself and to others.

REVIEW: “A Game of Goblins” by Jim C. Hines

Review of Jim C. Hines, “A Game of Goblins”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 8-27. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This is my first time reading one of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthologies, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I did receive a free copy courtesy of the publisher as a reviewer for SFF Reviews.

With that out of the way, I have to say I did enjoy this clever little story that pokes a lot of fun at high fantasy tropes, especially the ritualism and hierarchy of human society. There wasn’t really anything in this one that made me legitimately laugh, more the sort of humor where you snort a little and go “that’s funny.” I did however thoroughly enjoy this one, which is apparently an offshoot of Hines’s Goblin Quest series, and definitely has me interested in checking that one out more.

The story centers on the conceit of the various human clans vying for dominance, which leads to the Loncasters invading the home of Golaka, our main protagonist and the resident cook for her goblin tribe. They end up kidnapping her and promising her in marriage to the young lad who is to be the next in line for the throne.

Like a lot of stories that lampoon racial (and racist) tropes, Golaka ends up being the most clever out of all of them, and outwitting her captors, winning her freedom and the admiration of the young boy she was betrothed to. A great intro story for the anthology.


REVIEW: “For Southern Girls When the Zodiac Ain’t Near Enough” by Eden Royce

Review of Eden Royce, “For Southern Girls When the Zodiac Ain’t Near Enough”, Apex Magazine 111 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

You go to a reader to learn your future, but she stops you when you offer to tell her your zodiac sign. Southern girls, she says, need something else. The deck she uses to read your fortune is no traditional Tarot deck – these cards are born from the American south, rich in historical and natural imagery.

This is the first story in Apex Magazine’s zodiac themed issue, and it’s a doozy. First of all, the second-person narration here really works. Some people dismiss it as a point of view, but here it made me feel like I was body-swapped with the main character. It was not exactly that I was in her head (as with first person), more like I was someone else in a dream. In this case, a black woman from the south. As a white woman in New England, that was an usual experience. I’d say the narrative encouraged empathy without giving me full insight into the character which adds to the dream-like associations.

Except this isn’t a dreamy story at all. This is a story about how hard life can be, and the desire to get some extra insight to make it tolerable, or at least to prepare for whatever is coming. Being a black women in America is no easy task, one with perils I will never experience, but I can recognize the challenges. Butter, who reads her cards, seems to offer the main character what she most needs: recognition and insight.

Lastly, the imagery in the cards described is just stunning. The descriptions and the meanings were so clear and so pure, even for someone who has no connection to the region they are evoking. This is where we get back into the dreamy, visionary feel, and connect back to the zodiac theme of the issue. I believe in these oracle cards, and I believe that they are capable of great insight.

This is a strong start to Apex’s new themed issue, and I can’t wait to see where it builds from here!

REVIEW: “The Wish-Giver” by Ana Mardoll

Review of Ana Mardoll, “The Wish-Giver”, in No Man of Woman Born (Acacia Moon Publishing, 2018): 150-156 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

A young child braves a fiercesome, wish-granting dragon to ask for their heart’s desire — and the one wish the dragon cannot grant because it has already been granted. All the child needed was for other people to see what had always been true.

Every trans child needs a dragon at their back to protect and affirm them. While the stories in this collection are not written for cis people, this is one that spoke strongly to me and I hope will to other cis people as well. Not every child gets a literal dragon, but maybe we can be metaphorical dragons and step up and speak the truth when the truth is needed.

This short story is the perfect endcap to the anthology, encapsulating in it everything that is good and affirming in all the other stories (I think it’s not surprise that this is the only story in the anthology that doesn’t have a content note.)

REVIEW: “No Man of Woman Born” by Ana Mardoll

Review of Ana Mardoll, “No Man of Woman Born”, in No Man of Woman Born (Acacia Moon Publishing, 2018): 133-149 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

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!)

REVIEW: “Early to Rise” by Ana Mardoll

Review of Ana Mardoll, “Early to Rise”, in No Man of Woman Born (Acacia Moon Publishing, 2018): 104-132 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Magical curses, non-consensual kissing, mention of self-harm.

Retold fairy tales are tricky to pull off — so when one is done as masterfully as this retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” is, it is a triumph. The best retold fairy tales are ones where the story is not only told again but it’s transformed in a way that makes it entirely new.

There is so much to love about this story — Claude growing up not isolated in a forest cottage, deprived of parents, but kept close within the comfort and love of family, both parents and siblings. The issue of the pressure of finding one’s True Love being addressed head on: When one’s future depends on one finding it, finding it seems inescapably hard. And my personal favorite part, how magic is finally satisfied not through emotion but through logic, and still there is a happy ending.

If you like retold fairy tales, this version of Sleeping Beauty is totally for you.