Tor.com, February 2021
“Across the Dark Water” by Richard Kadrey
“Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels” by Lavie Tidhar
“The Tyger” by Tegan Moore
Reviewed by Mike Bickerdike
“Across the Dark Water” by Richard Kadrey is a rather topical novelette, as it is set in a post-pandemic dystopian future. A thief wishes to leave the city in which he lives. He obtains the services of a guide to take him to the mysterious and dangerous Turk, who may provide him with papers that will allow his escape from the city’s boundary. There is a plot twist at the end, which I rather liked, and upon which the story heavily depends. There are also some moments of tension that lift the piece, but there are also some issues with the story that didn’t work for me. The dialogue and the post-pandemic scenario are rather unconvincing, and Kadray did not sell the protagonist’s motivations to me either at the start of the story or after the plot-twist. There also seems to be a current trend not to name the main characters in stories, and it’s a risky move. By withholding names, the author removes one way we connect and engage with characters and this story falls into that trap.
“Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels” by Lavie Tidhar is a vampire fantasy, stereotypically taking place in the Alps and Bavaria in the middle-ages. The story tells of the murder of a wealthy vampire, Count Werdenfels; but who committed the act? Several claim to have murdered him, and Judge Dee—also a vampire—must solve the mystery. Written in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek manner, the tale becomes more engaging as it progresses, and the plot of multiple parties claiming to have murdered a vampire was quite entertaining. Less positively, the prose seemed a little awkward and inconsistent in style, before it settled down midway through, which had the effect of pulling this reader out of the story. It may nonetheless appeal to many, especially devotees of supernatural fantasy fiction.
“The Tyger” by Tegan Moore is a well-written and engaging story. This would best be classified as slipstream, perhaps, as its fantasy elements are marginal, but as a short story it is successful. A twelve-year-old boy, Julian, attends the wedding reception of his favourite aunt at a museum. He attends the event with his mother, who is herself terribly bitter about her recent divorce. His mother insists Julian recite William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” for the wedding guests (which he has been practicing for school) and otherwise makes a show of herself, complaining crudely about her ex-husband, and drinking too much. To escape the embarrassment and anger he has with his mother, Julian leaves the reception and explores his favourite part of the museum, “The Path Through Time.” Comprising exhibits that depict North America through the ages, the ‘Path’ takes the viewer from recent industrial times to a final diorama of the prehistoric giant bear, the Arctorus. The different dioramas have a strong effect on the boy, igniting his imagination. The story explores the dichotomy within both relationships and nature (safe and reliable versus threatening and dangerous), mirroring the subject that Blake questions in his classic poem. It’s a superior tale in which the dialogue, characters and scenes ring true and it is recommended reading.