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: “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde

Review of Fran Wilde, “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand”, Uncanny Magazine 18 (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

Uncanny Issue 18 is certainly high on horror, and Fran Wilde’s “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” should be your top choice if you’re looking for a scary read. It’s a disturbing, opaque trip into an old-fashioned freak show; directed by one of the people who plays a part in the show. The reader is personally engaged at every step as the narrator addresses all their instructions on how to progress through the show to ‘you’. This encourages the reader to quickly insert themselves into the story, and to experience all of Wilde’s cleverly crafted horror up close. As the narrator draws the reader on through a selection of increasingly disturbing scenes, this use of the word ‘you’, which is both impersonal and personal, enhances the story’s creepy power.  

“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” feels reminiscent of Alyssa Wong’s style. It’s darkly bitter, and visits quite perfect, and quite disturbing, magical punishment on those who do wrong. Let’s just say ‘you’ do not come out of this encounter well. It’s not quite a revenge story; the punishment is too impersonal to call it revenge. It’s more about punishing society for their stares, words, and medical experiments. Punishing slowly; one person at a time. The reader is left with the feeling that the narrator will always remain, and that they have eternity to teach visitor after visitor a lesson.

And oh that narrator is tricky. They open the story by seeming to show the reader a safe way through the exhibitions. However, once the story is finished, it becomes clear that they planned to trap their visitor all along. ‘Your hands are beautiful, did you know that?’ has never been quite so chilling.