“Song to Charm the Beasts” by Wendy Nikel
Reviewed by Anne Crookshanks
Both of the original fiction pieces in Fantastic Stories are quick reads. Wendy Nikel’s “Song to Charm the Beasts” begins in a Western way. A Western with magic, that is. A musician on horseback crosses into a desolate land. “The fiddler from Fire Gulch” has important business here. She drops the mare’s reins and walks into a town named Erebos, trusting she’ll remain ready. Upon finding the tavern’s patron has captured someone she wants, she agrees to his bargain. Play her enchanting music for him, and he will let them go, he says. So, she does. And he does. But, as she discovers, these kinds of bargains are subject to last-minute addendums. Plus, coyotes. Unfortunately, it seems her mount has vanished, else there might be another ending. Although its classical ending—which matches its setting—is rather abrupt, the story is nicely written with a lyrical quality and excellent descriptions.
If you could remove your physical scars–and your mental ones, would you? Unfortunately, as Jiya learns in Tamoha Sengupta’s “The Scars That Made Me,” there’s a little more to it than that. After all, we are knit together in such a way that to remove any part will affect the others, memories and body tissue. This story is well-constructed if a bit predictable, for the title is certainly indicative of what Jiya will decide to do about her scars. It could work well in an anthology for young people as it addresses serious matters in the spotlight now–body-shaming, domestic abuse, self-esteem—deftly and in just a few paragraphs. It may inspire young women to realize that love from family is greater than that from a fickle romantic attraction. Also, there may be a benefit to overcoming difficult situations without resorting to drastic yet deceptively simple measures.