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|Art by Caroline Jamhour|
"Luminaria" by John Hornor Jacobs (10,100 words)
This is a layered and dark read that explores loyalty and service, hunger and age. It features two primary characters, first Renie, who is a maidservant, and then her employer, Victoria. And the story builds slowly around a party, Victoria’s hundredth birthday party. And it’s certainly a story that knows how to take its time building a mood and a setting. It’s quite Southern Gothic, really, revealing this huge mansion where only two people live, and two people with this strange relationship, Renie desperate to please but not quite firm on the rules of the game. She hasn’t been working for Victoria for all that long, in the grand scheme of things, and there are events and whispers that just make things seem a little...off. If this were a traditional Gothic story Renie would slowly begin to put the pieces together, ferreting out the secrets of the home and confronting the horrors that have been concealed from her. At which point she’d have to decide what to do about it. But the story doesn’t really play by the rules, opting instead to add a layer of moral uncertainty to everything. Showing the depth of the relationship between Renie and Victoria. By the time that the story slips from Renie’s point of view to Victoria’s at about the half-way point, I was ready for the curtains to be pulled back (or maybe drawn tight would be more appropriate) and the secrets revealed. And indeed the story does a great job of building up the mythology and the world once it shifts to the perspective of someone who knows all the secrets. Or almost all of them, as the story still does manage a few more surprises. And I like how the piece comes to question who and what a person should be loyal to. What is unnatural, and what is horrifying, can be subjective terms especially when someone is groomed to be subservient, is made ready to fit into a certain role. And I like that the story shows this for all its uncomfortableness. The story as a whole seeps darkness, and provides a nicely nuanced horror with barely any action or gore. There’s always just the hint of something happening, the suggestion, the clues piling up. There’s always this soft smile concealing sharp teeth, and it makes for a wonderful read!
"Waste" by Mary Elizabeth Burroughs (4800 words)
This story speaks to me of difference and deals, corruption and deformity. The setting of the piece is a series of great garbage heaps known as the Heap, where some people try to eek out a life among the detritus. Where the children of Goldens and Silvers, children who are born with severe differences and disabilities, are thrown to try and live for as long as they can to please their game-obsessed parents who watch them from afar, who bet on them and take a certain satisfaction from their fates regardless of whether they live or die. For Eudora, the oldest of these children as the story develops, the world is a place of dangers but also beauty. A world that is mostly garbage but has a few treasures tucked into it as well, waiting to be discovered. What I like about the story is how it sees through the surface layers into who is trash and who is treasure. Eudora is a great character, sharp and keen and much older than her age. And she is deeply committed to the wellbeing of her siblings, to the other abandoned children. She is brave and she is resourceful and there is something dangerous about her, that she can understand so much and no react emotionally, that she can think so well when everyone assumes that’s the one thing she can’t do. And I like how it reveals the natures of people, how it shows that just because people are considered golden doesn’t mean that they are really treasure. That most of them are terrible people, and have created a system where a great many people get pushed out into the rubbish heaps. And yet something there is growing, and is going to return. Is going to find its way back to those Goldens who have no care for what they throw out. It’s a lovely and dark setting with a strong vein of hope to it, and makes for another great story!