REVIEW: “The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” by Sarah Monette

Review of Sarah Monette, “The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 21 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

“The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” is a slow-burn, literary, magical murder mystery. The narrator, Mr Booth, is placed in charge of papers written by a celebrated literary figure. Among the papers, he finds a poppet, which he believes has been used to murder the author – Geoffrey Usborne Bryant. Concerned that the perpetrator of this magical crime will hurt others, the narrator sets out to discover who put the poppet in Usborne Bryant’s boxes. While engaged in this detective mission, Booth reflects on the troubled, fleeting association he had with Usborne Bryant when they were at school.

Sarah Monette’s story delicately expresses how Booth’s sleuthing allows him to come to terms with the real shape of a relationship long-past. His quest to find the poppet maker is littered with small, stabbing pains of repressed past hurts and old emotions. Booth’s conversations with Usborne Bryant’s friends, as part of his amature detective work, show that he has developed a clear understanding of how people work. However, he has never quite understood the shape of his own past with Usborne Bryant. As he slowly works his way towards the criminal, Booth untangles the small-scale, but complex, web of interactions and emotions left unaddressed since school. This story is as much a work of emotional detective work as it is a detective story.  

“The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” is also about the importance of acting morally in the face of difficult personal feelings. In keeping with the tone of the story, Monette expresses this theme without any flashy signposts that her narrator is morally compromised, and yet still manages to strongly convey that doing what is right is not always a lot of fun. From the fact that the narrator ‘fled’ when the criminal faints at the end of the story, and the way that ‘something of my emotions bled through in my voice’ at the end of the story, the reader gets the sense that while the narrator’s quest was a success it did not lead him to any kind of satisfaction (beyond a certain understanding of his past).

Strangely, this story reminded me of a favourite Philip Larkin poem – “Dockery and Son“. There’s the similar subject matter of someone thinking back on their school days. And there’s something about the pace of the story, content to dwell on scraps from the past on its way to its destination, which evokes a similar tone to the poem; as does the simple poignancy of the story’s final line. “The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” was weird, and quiet, and slow, and I loved it, readers.

REVIEW: “Learning to See Dragons” by Sarah Monette

Review of Sarah Monette’s, “Learning to See Dragons”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 19 (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

In Sarah Monette’s poignant story about a young girl’s grief and loneliness, much of the background is shaded in swiftly; leaving the reader clutching at tantalising details. The story revolves around one central event; the death of Annie’s grandmother. However, much of what informs Annie’s story is happening, or has already happened, off the page.

When questioned by her teacher about whether there is trouble at home, Annie thinks ‘The trouble was that she didn’t have a home anymore, just a house where she lived with her parents. Her home had never been there, and now it was nowhere.’ And, while it’s difficult to build a definitive picture of Annie’s home life, it’s obvious from little details in the text that Annie doesn’t feel much affinity with her parents. Her grandmother has been the more significant, and positive, force in her life.

The fantasy element of this story is quiet, but at the same time extremely surreal. “Learning to See Dragons” is one of those stories where magic seems to appear just because it’s needed; although the appearance of magic doesn’t guarantee a typical happy ending. After finishing the story, I was remind of Ali Shaw’s The Girl With Glass Feet and Lucy Wood’s collection Diving Belles. As with those stories, I was left feeling a little sad about Annie and her eventual transformation. And I felt sorry for her mother who seems to be feeling plenty of her own grief but can’t connect with her daughter at this important time. There’s an element of horror to the ending, but it’s hard not to also feel a sense of relief for Annie who has chosen and summoned her own fate. The reader is left questioning and reevaluating their response long after they’ve read the story’s last line.

REVIEW: “National Geographic on Assignment: The Unicorn Enclosure” by Sarah Monette

Review of Sarah Monette, National Geographic on Assignment: The Unicorn Enclosure, Podcastle: Miniature 101 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

Flash fiction is really hard to write reviews for! This is a bit of a world-building sketch, developing one possible version of the natural history of unicorns–a slightly more sinister version than is typical. A nice exploration of how to expand a mythic concept into a complex natural phenomenon.