REVIEW: “Heart Shine” by Shveta Thakrar

Review of Shveta Thakrar, “Heart Shine”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

Kamal is lonely, so she turns to research on the Faerie, a mystical otherworld guarded by a tiny black kitten and green-glowing fireflies. She tries to sacrifice her entire history of memories to Faerie in order to become one of its denizens, but something goes wrong, and she finds herself wandering its borders, memories frustratingly intact, hopeless. A year later she finds a boy with a glowing peridot heart, and finally she experiences recognition and learns to appreciate her own inner worth. 

This piece revels in its description, eschewing the stripped narrative style that so many short stories use to build suspense and keep a plot moving. While it seemed a little decadent at times, I generally found it refreshing; Thakrar builds a magical border realm full of hidden meaning out of Komal’s house and haunts. 

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this piece, though, is its depiction of Komal’s invisibility: the way her parents ignore her and the way that she feels, perpetually, that her dreams and creations matter to no-one else (and therefore matter to no-one at all). It’s a devastating theme, and one that I suspect more of us can relate to than ever before, after such a long period in pandemic isolation. What Komal needs is not necessarily friends to validate her, but the ability to believe that she herself is worthy, and that her creations are worthy of attention. It’s a confidence that you can only find within yourself, and personally I found Komal’s path to finding her inner magic very heartwarming. 

REVIEW: “Dancing with Ereshkigal” by Sameem Siddiqui

Review of Sameem Siddiqui, “Dancing with Ereshkigal”, Clarkesworld Issue 176, May (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A poignant story that goes all over our solar system and spans goddesses, non-binary characters, low-gravity art forms, and dance. Our protagonist narrates the story as if they are speaking to Pyn, their spouse. The narrator has created, or rather been swept into, a different sort of life since they met Pyn. As we learn more about them, both individually as well as as a couple, we see things are different from what the narrator had initially believed. A moment of clarity reshapes much, so that the dance of the goddess makes more sense.

A lovely story, and I don’t say this just because I already have a weakness for goddesses in fiction.

REVIEW: “The Hungry Ones” by Emma Törzs

Review of Emma Törzs, “The Hungry Ones”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

When Aey (a now-unemployed logger struggling with his self-confidence) finds his wife sleeping with another man, he resolves to kill her lover immediately. But to find the resolve to do so he breaks a religious taboo and seeks out the magic of powerful women called the Hungry Ones. Their magic works in unexpected ways and Aey must deal with the consequences, all while regretting his actions and trying to find the courage to remedy them. 

In this story, rage, love, and sex combine to create a remarkably bleak portrait of a relationship in which a man refuses to support his wife and allow her equality. While nuanced and intriguing, the story offers little hope in the way of resolution or character development. I found the seemingly irreparable power imbalance in Aey’s relationship frustrating; perhaps it is naive, but I like to think that women today have enough rights and freedoms that Aey’s unconscious bigotry would be unacceptable and unthinkable. I can’t help but think that there are more pressing and original inequalities to illustrate so incontrovertibly. 

However, beyond the prevalence of misogyny, the piece is a fascinating character study and does not shy away from details. The worldbuilding gives a visceral sense of the religious and cultural beliefs of Aey’s community, and the description of the Hungry One that Aey visits provides a counterpoint to the idea that all the women in this world are seen as lesser and powerless. I found the story’s greatest strength to be its rare focus on women’s sexual pleasure and needs; I still don’t see enough of that in speculative fiction and to look at it from a man’s perspective was certainly innovative.

REVIEW: “How the Girls Came Home” by Eugenia Triantafyllou

Review of Eugenia Triantafyllou, “How the Girls Came Home”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

Amalia has a unique power: every day her feet change to that of a different animal, giving her an otter’s swimming abilities one day, and a cat’s climbing claws the next. Her father sees this as an undesirable curse, and has enlisted the help of the Artisan to make her a pair of magical shoes that will lock her feet into a human form. However, women have been mysteriously disappearing from Amalia’s village, and she seems to be the only one who cares enough to find out what has been happening to them. As she investigates rivers and eavesdrops on conversations from tree branches, she discovers that the orchestrator of these disappearances is more dangerous than she realized, and that he might be coming for her next. 

Amalia has a thorough appreciation for each new form of her feet and a deep empathy for the women around her, despite the opposing viewpoints of both her father and the rest of her community. However, her affection for her father leaves her unable to tell him that she considers her feet to be a fundamental part of who she is, leading her to risk her very identity every time she tries on a new pair of the Artisan’s shoes. So many parent-child relationships in fiction are purely antagonistic or supportive; I found this more complicated dynamic extraordinarily relatable and yet heartbreaking in its own way. This story has its light moments, but it is ultimately haunting, dealing with nuanced themes of identity loss, remembrance, and objectification. Don’t be fooled by the whimsical fairy tale elements: not all slippers are markers of princesses, and not all shapeshifters are capricious and unreliable.

REVIEW: “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse” by Rachel Swirsky

Review of Rachel Swirsky, “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

In “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse,” an ingenuous and lipstick-obsessed narrator details the whimsical contents of their purse in list format, guiding the reader through their recent interactions with these items. As the story continues, a web of connections grows between each seemingly discrete item, and, improbably and almost unbelievably, the narrator’s strange assumptions about the contents of their purse seem to be confirmed by members of the outside world. It’s a short and easily-digestible story, and it has some humorous twists and turns; it definitely made me smile!

Personally, when I pick up an issue of Uncanny, this is exactly the type of story I expect to find, layered between pages of the unexpected. It slowly adds speculative twists to ubiquitous, mundane aspects of daily existence until the reader ends up in a highly improbable world that, nevertheless, appears perfectly reasonable. An homage to the enigmatic nature of the random collection of items in our purses, it’s delightful, it’s surprising, and it wraps itself up neatly in a nice little bow. While not particularly flashy or action-packed, this story is simply good fun and great imaginative exercise.

REVIEW: “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” by Fran Wilde

Review of Fran Wilde, “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

Fashion design student Sara Sebastian has grown up listening to conflicting stories about the elaborate ball gowns designed by the Unseelie Brothers; her mother and aunt both wore one of these mysterious gowns on the fateful night when they met their husbands. When the Unseelie Brothers atelier reappears in New York City shortly before the Fête Noir Charity Ball, Sara and her cousin Rie are pulled from their final graduation projects to find the shop immediately. Once inside, Sara receives the opportunity of a lifetime: a paid contract to work at Unseelie Brothers and learn their trade. But as the ball inches closer, she discovers that the dresses she helps design may have more power than she realized, and a price with dangerous ramifications that stretch into her past.

This colorful, sparkling coming-of-age story filled my mind with whirling zoomorphic dress fabric and the giddy confidence of a young, talented artist surrounded by the best in her trade. The juxtaposition of a grounded New York college student with the messy next-generation aftermath of a cinderella-esque matchmaking ball was delightfully complex and riveting. I highly recommend it to any connoisseur of the modern fairy tale. 

REVIEW: “Traffic Circle of Old Connecticut” by Susan Jane Bigelow

Review of Susan Jane Bigelow, “Traffic Circle of Old Connecticut”, Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Ever since the Kalo invasion, Tian has practiced forgetting — forgetting her younger sister, Asan, left with her grandmother back in the village; forgetting that she is Zaluat; forgetting that her Zaluat ancestors passed down their circle magic to her. But when her grandmother dies and Asan is put into the Training Institute, Tian can forget no longer. She attempts a daring rescue of her sister, and in their escape they both learn the truth of their ancestor’s circle power, in a very clever allusion to the title.

This was a story rich in magic, history, oppression, and strength, and was a very satisfying read.

REVIEW: “Turning Song” by Fey Karvaly

Review of Fay Karvaly, “Turning Song”, Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Underage rape.

The Minstrel is in love with a girl who has become a tree — it’s the sort of premise that you’d expect to find in a fairy tale, and maybe this story is a fairy tale at heart, though on the surface it is something rather odder than that. I didn’t care overmuch for the Minstrel, but I found Plum’s existence fascinating (if the story of how she got there horrifying), and Miss Ursula who is old enough to call a snow-bearded minstrel “young” was equally charming. Best of all was the very satisfying revenge and comeuppance that Plum wrecked on the god that raped her as a child.

REVIEW: “Cosmic Resolution” by Hannah Hulbert

Review of Hannah Hulbert, “Cosmic Resolution”, Luna Station Quarterly 45 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Alcoholic parent.

Thirteen year old Marina doesn’t know what’s harder to deal with — the tentacles that slurp against her bedroom window at night, or about the fact that her mother doesn’t seem to think this is anything out of the ordinary. The opening of this story is weird and creepy, but when even Marina’s mom can’t ignore the tentacles and her whole history spills out, it takes a hard, sharp shift into the deliciously amusing and touchingly poignant. I really enjoyed this!

REVIEW: “Maeve in the Picture” by Clare McNamee-Annett

Review of Clare McNamee-Annett, “Maeve in the Picture”, Luna Station Quarterly 45 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I really had no idea what was going on in the early paragraphs of this story — they necessitated not one but two rereads before I could keep enough of it in my head to plunge on.

If “gritty realism” and “vampire romance” don’t conflict with each other, then those are the two phrases I would pick to describe this story. It wasn’t a happy, fluffy romance; it’s more of the uncomfortable “how close can you make a relationship sound abusive without actually being abusive” type of romance. But this was definitely unlike any other vampire story I’ve ever read.