5 of 5 stars.
This quizzical tale reads like Miyazaki’s Spirited Away blended with his Howl’s Moving Castle: bizarre, bleak, and at times beautiful.
Alis and her mother flee from a blight-stricken village after not saving a dying baby. The mother’s magic, blue energy radiating from her hands, cast them as outsiders wherever they go. They flee southward to the mountains where rusty blight has taken deeper hold. Beyond the mountain, all is wasted.
As the mother hunts, Alis searches her mother’s bundle finding the rust-laced bones of the baby. Upon her return, the mother gifts Alis a sharp knife–her first gift ever. But with it comes a lesson. Alis must slit her arm and bleed into the raging, freezing river. As her blood hits the water, her consciousness is pummeled over stones and sunken logs. She awakens on shore where she’s told that her sisters did better.
Many practices, days and cuts later, Alis has explored the waterways to the northern sea. Her mother challenges her to find a beaver dam and to tear it down by finding the water-weak spots. She finds the dam and spends many consecutive days poking and prodding until it falls apart:
“That was well done,” she said. “You learn more quickly than they did.”
I could not recall if my mother had ever praised me before. The words were like the gift of the knife, ill-fitting and sharp.
Then she is challenged to explore the desolate lands to the south of the mountains, to find the great city. She does, and it’s wasted. But also finds forms of life there and some answers . . .
“Water in Springtime” appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 edited by Paula Guran and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Clarkesworld, Issue 91, April 2014.
[Check out my other reviews here.]