The second issue of The Dark Magazine's new format is out and I'm still really enjoying how it's working. Especially with very dark stories, sometimes it's better to get smaller bites more often than to sit down and tackle it all in one go. Because The Dark is, undoubtedly, very dark. Even this month's original fiction, which might seem rather tame (and requiring a relatively small amount of trigger warnings), brings up the end of the world, parental abuse, forced feeding, crushing loneliness, and the sickening moment suspended between freedom and isolation. The stories both feature women yearning to be happy, yearning for something carefree and joyous and finding that there life is often filled with situations where there are no good options, just pain and hunger and hurt. So on that cheery note, to the reviews!
|Art by Peter Polach (Apterus)|
"The Hibernating Queen" by Leena Likitalo (7893 words)
So this is a story about bears. Kind of. And as a story about bears it feels like a story tinged in fable, talking animals and lessons to be learned. Here Val is the only daughter of the Queen Bear and dreams of growing up, being like her mother…except for the whole marrying and having cubs business. It's a story that shows the pressures involved with being female in this world and the strength and sacrifice required to get free, to find a way out. Maybe. Because the other thing the story is is cruelly ambiguous, giving readers a tense rush to the finish and then, well, doing something interesting. I quite like the setting here, the magic of the bears' kingdom, the relationship between Val and the peacocks and the lingering mystery of that third hibernation door. [SPOILERS] The story also deals with some very heavy material in the form of eating disorders and parental abuse, the ramifications for being different, for not wanting what you're supposed to. Val faces the choice of flee or be broken, and the story doesn't really reveal which one happens. In some ways, it doesn't have to. It presents three possible outcomes, one where Val escapes, one where she is broken, and a third. And how these options frame the story is great, complex and subtle and a little bit frustrating but in a good way. In a way that let me know it was under my skin. The character work and the strangeness of the setting and characters work, and this is definitely a story to check out!
"The Bat House" by M. Bennardo (2154 words)
And here's a story about foresight and stubbornness and ignorance and isolation, a story about a woman named Patience refusing to think about the future, refusing to heed warnings when she had the chance. The story does an excellent job of marrying hope and gloom and the shadow of something that starts out small, vague but present, and grows into something solid and immense and devastating. Patience is defined by her willful ignorance, her desire to simply live her life and not bother with an outside world that is cruel and ugly. And yet the story shows that running away, shutting your eyes to the horror, is not a way to avoid it. That sometimes you have to look with open eyes at a situation and make a decision. I like how magic is handled here, as well, the older style witchcraft, the way that Bedelia designs what she hopes will save her, what she hopes will save them both. [SPOILERS] And I rather love how that works, how Bedelia is able to create a place where she can be comfortable, where she can be spared the dark being a bad thing. And how she tries to convince Patience but can't get through. It's tragic but it's fitting and it shows what happens when people choose to be isolated in the face of catastrophe, shows the crushing and lingering loneliness set next to the fraternity of bats. It's a fun story, if a sad one, and a great read!