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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Strange Horizons, 9 May 2005

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"Emlas" by Lisa Carreiro

In fairy tales, it is well-known that a broom is an instrument of power. A broom can sweep away evils, it can ward the clean-swept threshold of the home. In Lisa Carreiro's tale, "Emlas," the never-named narrator sweeps clear her path to escape an unhappy home by aiding a crazy old man's mysterious scheme to become, so she tells us, immortal. In the fairy tales, we know what will happen after the miracle, when the enchanted prince is transformed and restored to his youth and power. The industrious sweeper is rewarded; the prince carries her away. But Carreiro subverts our expectations. Our sweeper has no ambition to become a princess, and Emlas has no more part in her plans.

We are finally left with more questions than answers. Not only how Emlas achieved his miracle, for a tale is allowed to keep its central mystery. But so many other questions lie at the heart of the story: Why did he choose our sweeper as his helper? What did he really want from her? Where did he get the coins to pay her? The sweeper does not tell us. She does not know, she does not care to know. Yet at the end, it seems that she has not quite forgotten Emlas, after all.

While we as readers are left to wonder how much more we might have learned if we had heard this tale from Emlas himself, how much more we might know about the girl who swept the streets in front of her father's shop, so long ago.