REVIEW: “Mountain God” by Gwen Benaway

Review of Gwen Benaway, “Mountain God” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 7-25 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: A lot of death.

The mage Aoyas has three strikes against her: She’s a mercenary; she was born in Lerani, the most recently conquered and still not quite subjugated province of the Empire; and she is a Marked woman, someone who has changed her born gender. Her mercenary partner Rais isn’t that much better; he was born in the capital city but his father was an outlander who abandoned him and his mother when he was young. Neither Aoyas nor Rais set out to become mercenaries, but fate put them in each other’s paths and together they became lovers and survived their first — hardest — year of mercenarying.

It took five-and-a-half pages to set up all the history and backdrop for the story, rather a long in something only about 20 pages long; but I’m a sucker for good worldbuilding so the lack of action or activity didn’t bother me too much. I was surprised at how transphobic and misogynistic the setting was — it made me sad that Aoyas didn’t get a better story, a better life. While some people might say she got her happily ever after, I’m not entirely convinced.

REVIEW: Maiden, Mother, Crone edited by Gwen Benaway

Review of Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Recently I took a trip down to York to visit a friend, and she did what the good friends do and took me around the good bookstores. One of these was the Portal Bookshop, full of queer and SFF books. It’s been so long since I’ve been to a brick-and-mortar bookstore that has books in it that I actually want to buy, that I may have ended up buying more than I could carry…including this anthology.

I was not familiar with it before seeing it on the shelf, but it immediately appealed to me. Benaway in her editorial introduction says that she wanted the book to be

a space for other trans women and trans feminine folk to write fantastical short stories where trans folks were the main characters

and the collection bills itself as “the first anthology by trans femme authors to explore the realms of magic, supernatural beings, and alternative universes”. I can only hope that it won’t be the last, because collections like this are so rich and so valuable.

As is usual, we’ll review each of the stories individually, and link the reviews back here when they’re published:

I was surprised at how many of the stories reinforced the gender binary, or included structural misogyny. It made my heart sad for so many of these women, and for women reading this anthology who may be looking for more than just triumph-over-adversity, moving on to fantasy worlds where being trans is hardly worth commenting on. One of the powers of fiction is that it can provide us with models of ways the world can be, because sometimes it is easier to change the actual world into a more ideal world if we have an idea of what the more ideal world could actually look like, and I confess I had expected a bit more idealism and a bit less realism.