REVIEW: “Toward a New Lexicon of Augury” by Sabrina Vourvoulias

Review of Sabrina Vourvoulias, “Toward a New Lexicon of Augury”, Apex Magazine 114 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

In this magical post-apocalyptic story, the Mole Street Mob, composed of witches, brujas, and cunning folk, only wants to protect their community from gentrification. Of course, that puts them at odds with the city government, and that rarely ends well.

The world-building really makes this story. It’s drawn in light brush strokes, but the result is evocative. There was some terrible event years ago that restructured society. Electricity is dearly expensive. Witches exist not only on the fringes of society, but in law enforcement and city planning. And yet, in some very fundamental ways, their society is very similar to our own. Racism still keeps some people marginalized, and those at the top still abuse their power. Which means that the disenfranchised need to be all the more cunning with their use of magic, since it is neither secret nor rare.

I loved how Alba, the main character, used her augury to plan the big magical working they need to do. It didn’t deliver a fully formed plan for the gang to use, but offered her hints and glimpses and partial instructions that she had to piece together. Divination is too rarely used to good effect, and this felt like a unique and rewarding interpretation of the subject.

All in all, a moving story about the power of resistance, and of love.

REVIEW: “La Gorda and the City of Silver” by Sabrina Vourvoulias

Review of Sabrina Vourvoulias, “La Gorda and the City of Silver”, Podcastle: 506 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

I participated in a discussion on facebook recently about defining subgenres of speculative fiction, and the question of comic book superheroes came up. In practice, superheroes can draw from fantasy (X-men, Dr. Strange), science fiction (Iron Man), mythology (Thor, Wonder Woman), “realistic” (Batman–at least for the Batman character himself), or any number of other subgenres, but what they have in common is a fantasy of agency and justice, even when justice sometimes fails. This multi-focal genre has been adopted as speculative fiction by popular acclaim, regardless of the specific mechanism of the hero’s powers.

“La Gorda and the City of Silver” is clearly a superhero story. The world of masked and costumed luchadores is deeply rooted in the genre regardless of the apparent lack of overtly fantastic elements. (I know this is a theme I tend to harp on regularly, but I do like my fantasy to actually be, you know, fantastic in general.) The narrator–who calls herself by the nickname La Gorda, one she accepted rather than chose–is the daughter of a producer of luchador shows and grows up surrounded by their performative costumed superheroism. So when the abuse of a neighbor girl calls for heroic intervention, this is the natural medium by when La Gorda takes up the challenge. The story is deeply yet casually embedded in the everyday life of a Guatemalan working class neighborhood. Both the perils and their solutions arise out of that embedding as well as the narrative of masked superheroes and the lone fight for a justice that the law won’t deliver. Or perhaps not so lone, as La Gorda discovers when she expands the scope of her protection in parallel with the expansion of the lives she feels called to protect.

This was a richly satisfying story, both in the telling and the conclusion.

Content note: Contains references to offscreen sexual abuse.

(Originally published in Fat Girl in a Strange Land edited by Holt and Leib)