Art by Xiao Ran
"Longsleeves" by Mike Allen (7453 words)
People who follow my reviews know that I'm a little spotty on the concept of revenge. And at first glance this story might seem one steeped in it, the story of a woman beaten and murdered in a forest brought back by an ancient witch to serve the powers the forest represents. Merav, the woman, is remade into the image of a fox, a visage perhaps fitting to her but not one she is pleased to wear. She rages at the injustice of what has been done to her, rebelling against the witch who "saved" her and refusing to accept her situation. I say the story can seem to revolve around revenge because of aspects toward the end of the story, which I will try not to spoil, but which put Merav in the position of hurting those who hurt her. I think, though, that the story does a good job of complicating the revenge, making it more about justice, more about preventing future crime, than solely about the hurt and anger Merav feels. She is justifiably angry, which is also part of it, and not without a guilt or compassion of her own. The story itself is rather strange and haunting, the action strong and well paced. The setting is more vague, unexplored, with strange powers at play that I wanted to know more about but which work in service to the forest (basically a nature/old powers=good and newer/more economic powers=bad…not quite so simple probably but in this story that's all that's really required to know). It's interesting to see Merav's drive, her refusal to accept a role she doesn't want, regardless of having been "saved." And the ending fits the rest of the tale, allows Merav an option that puts her in service really to no one else, rejecting all higher powers and allowing her to aim herself, which is what she always wanted. It's a fine story, full of action and death and yet resisting a narrow view of murder and retribution. Indeed.
"The Mama Mmiri" by Walter Dinjos (4070 words)
This story also complicates the idea of revenge, once more focusing on a victim not really committing bloody acts in order to sate some inner bloodlust but because it is called for, because it fits into an idea of justice that exists in harmony with the natural and supernatural worlds. The story shows a twin who has lost his brother, who is now a half of an incomplete whole, and all because the spirit of the river near his home craves twins and is being appeased by a devious man and his foreign overseer in order to build a bridge. I love how the spirits are portrayed, as part unfeeling and cold and part deeply emotional and protective. The spirits are people but they aren't quite human, are ferocious and cruel but capable of being moved and capable of knowing how justice works. And it is a sense of sense of justice that is tied up in land and in imperialism, that here is this custom that is being perverted by a wealthy foreigner, by an Englishman, in order to exploit not just the natural resources but the people. That what he ultimately wants is dominance and is trying to game even the local spirits into letting him, something that the spirits seem willing to work to a point because it suits them, making victims of those that would victimize others. It's a cycle and it's violent and not incredibly pretty (though it does have a great sense of humor) but there's also something beautiful to the tragedy, to the way everything winds together. It's a story of loss and of death and of brothers and magic and it's quite good, dark and wrenching but there's something in that ending that defies that actual events of the story, that left me less in despair and more with a sort of hope, an undeniable feeling that though the world is full of danger, there is wonder as well, and love that cannot be destroyed by hate or violence.