Short Story Review: “The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove” by Ville Merilainen

3 of 5 stars.

This is a fantastical folktale in which 3 sisters journey to the world tree in order to bring Spring back in a world of endless winter. They’re guided by a parable etched in stone along the journey that tells of a brave wolf, a clever fox and a little dove that journeyed through winter to the river of the Swan King. Wolf faced the Swan King who stood in the way of the verdant fields beyond. The fox came up with a plan. And the little dove found the acorn that brought forth Spring. But not before the wolf sacrificed herself for the plan to work.

The sisters try to follow the parable as a guide while avoiding the fate of the characters within the parable. They are also armed with the knowledge that their parents died trying to do the same thing. Rose [the wolf] was trained in the ways of the sword by her mother. The narrator [the fox] was trained in the ways of magic by her father. Lily [the dove] was born during the parents attempts to thaw the world tree. They sacrificed themselves so that she might live to try again.

The world tree is protected by wolves that seek to bring down all of the trios making pilgrimage to bring about Spring.

This tale works in its form as a fantastical short story. World building is minimal and narrow-focused. Character building is reduced to the narrowly defined parameters of the parable.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This debut novel beautifully , and at times disgustingly, deconstructs social notions of gender and gender roles along with the idea of “the individual” and what it means to be human. With descriptive language ranging from the visceral and pungent to the passionate and poetic, folkloric monsters are brought to life on the page ultimately pushing the subject of what separates the “monsters” from the “humans.”

The creatures in question are shape-shifters incorporating the lores of the Norse kveldulf, the French loup-garou, the Greek lycanthrope, the Romanian vampire, the Middle Eastern djinn, and the Hindu rakshasa. All are one and the same filtered through centuries of culture and lore. And they’re real. They disguise themselves as human. Transform into monsters. And then devour humans. When they devour humans they take on all of the memories of their victims such that memories of the beast and the various victims become indistinguishable.

Through the accumulation of memories and the horrific acts the creatures enact upon their victims, one experiences the roles of both the raped and the rapist, the murdered and the murderer, the devoured and the cannibal, the child killing a parent and the parent being killed by the child.

The novel takes the reader places they may not wish to go. But it could not do so more beautifully:

The full moon watches through the clouds, eager for massacre. With a bark of exhaled air, the clatter of tusk and fang, we spring. The bauls’ song is loud, and beautiful in its imperfection. It is their last. I run with my pack. My tribe. The bauls are surrounded. They sing till the very last moment.

The first kill is silent as our running, a glistening whisper of crimson in the air. The last is louder than the baying of a wolf, and rings like the bauls’ mad song across the marshes of what is not yet Kolkata. I can hear the howl as I run with this human in my arms, into the darkness, away from the shadows of slaughter. The howl curdles into a roar, enveloping the scream of the last dying minstrel.

But she is alive, against me, shivering against my dew-dappled fur. She is alive.

This tale is recommended.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Tears for Shülna” by Andrew L. Roberts

3 of 5 stars.

Selkie folklore colors this short folktale without diving too deeply into the transmorphic creature’s mythos, or POV. Largely plotless, the tale beautifully renders a son’s grief in the face of his father’s impending death.

The tale manages to parallel without borrowing from Christian end-of-life mythos. Like an angel, the selkie arrives with near perfect beauty. Despite being unaddressed for decades, she takes on the burden of the sorrows and tears for both the son and father while delivering the dying old man to his next realm–the sea. The old man’s love for the selkie is depicted as a first love, a primal love, from which he strayed through life only to return at the hour of his death.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Salted by Aaron Galvin

Salted (Salt series, #1)Salted by Aaron Galvin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Folklores around the world tell of transmorphic sea creatures shifting into human shape and blending in with the unaware local human populous: mermaids [merrows, sirens], selkies [silkies], and kelpies to name some more common forms. Often, a form of seduction transpires between the folk-creature and some humans. The deceptions often escalate to kidnapping, rape and slavery of either humans lured into the drowning sea or sea-folk trapped into a terrestrial existence until said time that they can escape back into the sea.

This imaginative urban fantasy creates a rich and elaborate world of sea-folk and humans in a modern setting. Selkies, seal people, are an enslaving society with a strict caste system. The form of seal one can transform into matters. With leopard seals [“lepers”] being the most dangerous. Though sea lions [“racers”] and elephant seals can be quite formidable, too. No less than 7 species of seal/selkie appear. But more importantly, most are enslaved. Others are slave owners, slavers, runaway slave catchers, and slave abolitionists. Humans are as oblivious to the horrors around them as most people are today of the ongoing existence of modern human trafficking present still in the modern US and Europe.

To be clear, through a well-developed veneer of urban fantasy and folklore this is a story about modern slavery from many nuanced vantage points. And that is brilliant. It can also be quite disturbing to see the abuse, violence and heavily suggested rape.

As the opening volume to a series, the world construct will only get richer as other transmorphic folk are seen minimally but with the suggestion that the interactions and history between the selkies and the dolphin-folk merrows, orca-folk [“orcs”], and shark-folk [“nomads”] is equally as complex once one descends beneath the ocean’s surface.

Interestingly, some liberties are taken with the folk traditions. The young adult hero of the tale is an “orc”, unbeknownst to him, living in landlocked Indiana. So, sea-folk can be oblivious to their own status–for generations. Also, it’s suggested humans can be transformed into sea-folk, ie a non-selkie can become an enslaved selkie. Finally, though not elaborated, a form of glamour magic exists around the sea-folk such that humans cannot see a half-transformed merrow as anything other than a dolphin. Whereas, other sea-folk can see every stage of the transformation from dolphin form to mer to human.

This novel and series is recommended. I received my copy of this novel directly from the author.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Defining Shadows” by Carrie Vaughn

3 of 5 stars.

Peripheral to, but emerging from the world of Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series about a detective werewolf in the Denver area, this short story mentions but never sees Kitty. The tale follows police detective Jessi Hardin of the Denver PD. She’s not supernatural, but those are the crimes she investigates–not unlike Karrin Murphy of Jim Butcher’s Dresden series about an investigative wizard in Chicago.

This short tale takes a look at a neighborhood with a mix of cultures including immigrant Filipinos and the Caucasians that don’t understand them [and cannot tell them apart from Mexicans]. The case revolves around the bottom half of a body found standing up in a backyard shed. The top half is missing. The rotting flesh has been sprinkled with salt . . .

What’s most interesting here, is that like an episode of Supernatural, the investigation delves into folk beliefs from other cultures.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read Vaughn’s Amaryllis and “Fishwife”, both of which were excellent.

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Case of the Stalking Shadows” by Joe R. Lansdale

The Case of the Stalking ShadowThe Case of the Stalking Shadow by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite the title of the tale and its inclusion in a supernatural detective anthology, this isn’t a detective story. It’s a supernatural ghost story with elements of Lovecraft in its default to unspeakable horror at its heart. I tend not to be moved by “unspeakable horror” since little tends to make it to the page to suggest horror. I find it akin to someone opening a box without letting you peek and then saying, “It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t you agree?” I wouldn’t know, you aren’t showing me what’s in the box . . .

Horror works best with immediacy–something at stake with an unsure outcome. The stakes are raised if the hero might possibly not make it out of the situation. The horror is diffused a level if the narrator is telling the story after the fact. [Let me guess, you survived the room full of knife-wielding clowns long enough to tell me this story . . .] It’s diffused even more when the tale is not even told by the person who experienced it. [So, your neighbor went on vacation and saw a shark . . . ok.] This tale follows option 3.

An allegedly ghost-skeptical narrator was at a book club where a person recounted a spirit encounter from decades earlier. This is multiple degrees from immediacy. And despite the narrator’s affirmation that the tale he heard made him a believer, little to the story is compelling in the re-retelling of a vague unspeakable horror.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “Godzilla’s Twelve-Step Program”–4 stars
     “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
     “Torn Away”–2 stars
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Key” by Ilsa J. Bick

3 of 5 stars.

Modern day detective noir meets ancient Jewish mysticism in this tale of murder and convenient coincidence.

A Washington DC detective, Jason Saunders, and his new partner scope out the scene in a local park where a dead infant was found by a woman walking a dog. It happens to be the same park where a year earlier Saunders’ then partner committed suicide. A potential anti-Semitic hate crime had sent his Jewish partner along a downward spiral that ended with a self-administered bullet.

Fighting through the memories, Saunders notes a Kabbalah pendant around the neck of the dog walker. And his partner find a piece of cloth inscribed with Hebrew letters tucked under the tongue of the infant …

It may not matter if something supernatural is going on, or even if you belief something supernatural could go on, if others do believe . . .

The story presents a clash of faiths and levels of skepticism knotted into an investigative mess.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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