REVIEW: “Windhorse” by Zhao Haihong

Review of “Windhorse”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 47-51. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This story has a couple footnotes, but they’re much appreciated, especially if you’re not familiar with everything about Chinese geography or Tibetan culture. The main character is traveling from China to the mountains of Tibet, where they will get windhorse pennants from the monks there in order to help them mourn their deceased lover.

“Windhorse” is short and sweet, a lovely tail about grieving and loss, acceptance, and it’s a great story to finish up this magazine.

REVIEW: “The Best of Our Past, the Worst of Our Future” by Christi Nogle

Review of “The Best of Our Past, the Worst of Our Future”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 39-46. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

Another story in this issue that is at least partly written in second-person, but this one works a lot better for me than “Children of Air” did. My instinct is that this is due to the story giving commands on what to visualize versus chronicling what I, the reader, am supposedly doing. There’s not as much of a hurdle to relating with the writing.

“The Best of Our Past” is a coming-of-age story about a young woman who falls in love with her step-cousin, chronicling life as they grow with and apart from each other, and a frightening power comes to light. It commands you to sit down and fall into its imagery, to see everything happening in the lives of these two young people. For me, at least, the command worked.

I wouldn’t say the ending is a happy one, and I’m not sure I’d say it’s a bad ending either. It just simply is, and sometimes that’s all you need. Another winner in a magazine that has so far had no duds. Quite an accomplishment.

REVIEW: “Cunning” by Laurel Lanthrop

Review of “Cunning”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 32-37. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This story is a fairy tale about a man who has lost his wife, and the witch he meets after saving her from drowning. The witch offers him a single wish and in his grief he wishes either for his wife to come back from the dead, or a woman who would be such a good wife to him that he would no longer remember his sorrow. Of course the witch offers to become his wife, beautifying herself with magic and going home with the man to meet his daughter and housekeeper, taking her place as the new woman of the house.

Like any fairy tale worth its salt, it has a moral or two to teach. Also like any fairy tale worth its salt, it isn’t dumbed down in order to be “kid-friendly.” “Cunning” keeps up the level of quality present throughout this entire magazine, though it was slightly harder for me to latch onto partly due to the dialogue in the story being peppered with thees and thous, seeming just a tad off. Don’t let that keep you from reading this story, though, because it’s great, and I’m very interested to see what other work Laurel comes out with.

REVIEW: “Watching You Without Me” by Todd Summar

Review of “Watching You Without Me”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 25-31. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

“Watching You Without Me” is a story about death, time, and life. The main character is a woman who is recently deceased, and she finds time is not linear because she keeps jumping around in her own timeline. She relives difficult tumultuous times. Her husband growing distant, her child growing without her.

It’s not the usual shtick of watching yourself from the outside, A Christmas Carol style. Our main character is reliving these vignettes in the moment, remembering she is incorporeal at increasingly more distressing times: when she can’t hold her child up to keep him from drowning when he’s learning to swim, when her husband gets called out to the hospital after she is late coming home. She begins to be pulled further and further away from these moments by some sort of unseen force, and the scenes get more heartbreaking as she is now looking at what has happened to the people in her life now that she is gone.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There is some actual closure and acceptance at the end, but it also doesn’t soften any blows. Like the previous story, “Evidence of a Storm,” there is necessarily some darkness here, a bleak make, but the theme that pushes through most is acceptance. She did what she could while she could, but now that she’s gone it’s time to let things go. This is another recommended read.

REVIEW: “Evidence of a Storm” by Mollie Chandler

Review of Mollie Chandler, “Evidence of a Storm”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 17-21. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This issue is the first I’ve read of LCRW, and it was this story that solidified the thought that I would probably be enjoying this publication for a long time. I have a soft spot for bleak stories, and while this is one that doesn’t smack you over the head with utter hopelessness until you’re curled up crying there is an underlying line of tension and sadness running through the whole thing.

The narrator has recurring dreams that their apartment is a ship lost at sea, filling with water and sea life. Their girlfriend visits them, a perky woman who the main character is clearly having some sort of disconnect from. They’re having trouble communicating, refusing intimacy, referring to the woman as “a collection of hinges and joists.” Over time the dream becomes more real, and the world more surreal, with the water beginning to damage everything it touches while the narrator pushes their girlfriend away.

It’s easy to draw allegory and symbolism of depression and a doomed relationship from this piece: the trouble communicating, the pushing away of a loved one, the recurring dreams of a room filling with water. However, I feel it’s best to leave interpretations such as that to the reader. This piece is subtle in its grief, and it’s all so human. If it were only this story and the two preceding it in this magazine I’d still highly recommend giving a few dollars to purchase a copy, but there’s more in there, including a strange (though compelling) nonfiction piece and some poems. As for this story, like the previous two, highly recommended.

REVIEW: “The Secret History of the Original Line” by T. L. Rodebaugh

Review of T. L. Rodegbaugh, “The Secret History of the Original Line”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 9-16. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey. 

This is an extremely interesting historical piece, with a mix of fantasy. I haven’t been able to tell yet if it also follows in the speculative fiction tradition of alternate history stories. It tells of an expedition sent out by the King to trace and bind a border between Virginia and Carolina in what would otherwise be called the United States of America. The story takes the form of an expedition log, similar to the travel narratives that were popular in the 1800s by writers such as Herman Melville.

The history, cultural differences, and mythology make themselves readily apparent. The narrator speaks of their disgust of their Carolinian workmate, a pompous man who brings two indentured servants with him on the expedition. Our narrator sarcastically calls the man Christian in honor of his pious nature. The writing style reminds me of Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, and Mary Shelley in all the best ways, though the more thickly-written style, combined with the slightly longer length compared to the other stories in this issue made “The Secret History” take a while longer to get through.

The group comes upon a hermit, naked and seemingly savage, especially to Christian, though he quickly shows his nuanced intelligence as he converses with the other men. He explains it’s all well and good the King wants to parse out the land for his commissioners, but it’s owned by no one and changes every day: “If you parcel it out today, you will find it a different matter tomorrow.” The hermit becomes a focal point of the story, as does the aftermath of what happens to the survey team after meeting him.

It’s a skillful piece, though bleak and dreadful with hints at time travel and themes of inevitable war, doom, global climate change, and revenge. For those who think a story straddling the line between the “literary” and the speculative would strike their fancy I recommend this very highly. It’s another standout in this issue of the magazine, along with The Crane Alphabet and a few others. There are a lot of gaps in the story to fill in yourself, and it may take a couple readings to fully grasp everything, but it’s well worth the investment. Congratulations are also in order as this is apparently also Rodebaugh’s first published piece of fiction, and a very accomplished one at that.

REVIEW: “The Crane Alphabet” by L. M. Davenport

Review of L. M. Davenport, “The Crane Alphabet”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 7-8. Purchase here. Reviewed by Ben Serna-Grey.

This story is extremely short and sweet, reminding me a lot of Le Guin’s Earthsea, and I say that as a huge compliment.

The Crane Alphabet tells the tale of a novice in some sort of religious, possibly magical, commune, who seems to be mute. The one telling the story explains that another member of the commune, Marin, has been waiting to see if the novice will transform into a bird. The story is so short that to tell more would be giving away too much.

I will say that Davenport has woven a beautiful tale that speaks about fear of the fabled “other,” obsession, and the ways that obsession can transform a person. It’s one of the stand-out stories in this issue of the magazine and I highly, highly recommend it.