Short Story Review: “The Dragon Killer’s Daughter” by Todd McCaffrey

2 of 5 stars.

This tale was created in the fashion of many writing prompts, in this case based on a still drawing of an armored man fighting a dragon. That’s not much to go on and leaves things wide open for interpretation. Unfortunately, the fantastical folk tale that emerges is thin on plot and lacking development.

Creatures called raksha prey on domestic farm animals driving the rural folk away. Dragons feed on raksha. Until, that is, there are too few to feed on and then dragons prey on humans. Again, driving the rural folk away. Dragons also hoard gold because of legend and folk lore. It’s some sort of innate draw to one random element or particularly shiny color.

When raksha infest a village and then a dragon comes to feed on the raksha, the villagers send word to the duke to get help. The duke sends his disposable 7th son. The son kills the dragon, but stays in the village. That’s all pre-history. The tale follows the young pre-teen dragonslayer’s daughter as she hears the tale of the dragon every year on her birthday. Questions about her absent mother remain unanswered until her 12th birthday. In the absence of the dragon, raksha have returned and devastated the land driving the villagers away. If only there was a dragon to drive the raksha away . . .

The daughter has a bizarre draw to gold . . . and the father knows that her 12th birthday is an important one because, this is a folktale and knowledge that 12 will be an important number can just be assumed without reason, or prophecy or precedent . . .

This tale was included 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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