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.