REVIEW: “The Past, Like a River in Flood” by Marissa Lingen

Review of Marissa Lingen, “The Past Like a River in Flood”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 311 (August 27, 2020): read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

A school for magicians is hardly a novel concept these days, but what raises this fast-paced fantasy to a high level is its narrator: a forty-something former student who has reluctantly returned to her alma mater for a reason that terrifies her. When Ellis was a student, the school’s original Vault of Potions was destroyed in a flood. Now, twenty years later, two students are “mysteriously dead, found sitting against the Vault wall without a drop of blood or a bruise on them.”  At least two people suspect how the deaths relate to the long-ago flood: Ellis’s mentor, still a professor at the school, and the school’s provost. Now they need Ellis’s skill as a geomancer to neutralize the “nasty forces” in the Vault that have been allowed to build unchecked for two decades. Before the story ends, Ellis will be betrayed and witness a murder, but she’ll also have an opportunity to teach an important lesson on what it really means to put the past behind you.

REVIEW: “Every Tiny Tooth and Claw (or: Letters From the First Month of the new directorate)” by Marissa Lingen

Review of Marissa Lingen, “Every Tiny Tooth And Claw (Or: Letters From The First Month Of The New Directorate)”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 295, January 16, 2020, Read Online, Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

This is an excellent story, but not one to be read casually. On a superficial level, it is a series of letters between two lovers, Aranth and Pippa, separated for reasons that become more apparent as the story progresses. Read more closely, however, the letters are written in a sort of code that reveals far more about the lives of these lovers, and the society they inhabit, than is apparent on first reading. Saying more about this story would give too much away, so I’ll close with this. You may need to read this story twice, but you’ll thank yourself for doing so.

REVIEW: “Lines of Growth, Lines of Passage” by Marissa Lingen

Review of Marissa Lingen’s, “Lines of Growth, Lines of Passage”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 20 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

A little like Doreen Green in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Shuang, the narrator of “Lines of Growth, Lines of Passage” has a creative approach to solving big problems. Trapped in a cherry tree by her faithless apprentice, Shuang escapes by magically encouraging the tree to merge with her human form. Where other sorcerers might have blasted their way out with magic, Shuang chooses a non-violent path because, as a consequence of being encased in the tree, she understands that the cherry tree ‘mattered’, and that even a non-sentient tree can be hurt.

Whether she is escaping from a cherry tree, or trying to defeat iron giants, Shuang works hard to find solutions which are both effective and empathetic. While other people try to barrel through situations with might and entitlement, Shuang absorbs the concerns of those around her, and designs solutions which allow everyone (or everything) to benefit. She, and her story, are a symbol of what can be achieved when people seek to cooperate with nature rather than to conquer or defeat it. And later in the story, this choice allows Shuang to form a successful plan for passing the iron giants who block the northern trade routes; something no one else has managed to achieve.

“Lines of Growth, Lines of Passage” encourages the reader to take a second look at nature; to really think about its value, and its needs. It pushes readers to consider alternative, co-operative solutions to problem solving. It asks readers to think about how solving human problems impacts the environment. And it also critiques the old story trope of humanity conquering nature which I’ve seen crop up in everything from wilderness adventure stories to fantasy novels.

If that makes “Lines of Growth, Lines of Passage” sound super serious, be assured that this story is full of light humour. When trapped in the cherry tree, Shuang remarks that ‘Though fragrant, this was inconvenient’, and her first person narration is often peppered with sarcastic, or naturally ironic remarks. The conversations between her and her new, exasperated apprentice are a tonic, and reminded me very much of certain exchanges in Terry Pratchett’s books. There’s plenty of fun, and plenty of substance, to be found in this story, so check it out asap.