Tor.com, December 2014
Reviewed by Chuck Rothman
Tor.com rounds out the year with five first-class stories, starting with a magical realism tale set in Philadelphia. “Skin in the Game” follows Jimena Villagrán, a Latina cop policing a city where the various ethnic enclaves all have some sort of magical proclivities. There’s been a murder, by a monster no one has seen before, and Jimena has to get to the bottom before it’s too late. Sabrina Vourvoulias‘s story is in some ways a standard mystery (albeit with supernatural characters and magic), but what makes it stand out is the vibrant portrait of a multiethnic city of gangs and neighborhoods.
Of course, it isn’t December without a Christmas story, and Charles Vess contributes “Father Christmas: A Wonder Tale of the North,” a new twist on the Santa Claus story, where Nicklos falls in love with the Troll King’s daughter, an infatuation that is fraught with all the issues you might expect (and many you wouldn’t expect) with making a supernatural being your wife. The story is full of magic—not just the supernatural, but also the magic of great storytelling. Vess makes you believe that his tale is really an ancient fairy tale, and it is a delightful read.
Lish McBride has “Burnt Sugar,” a story about the “magical mafia,” where teens Lock, Ezra, and Ava are enforcers for the Coterie, run by the vampire Venus. A client is behind in the rent, and the three have to take care of it all. But this isn’t an ordinary property: it’s a gingerbread house and has certain powers that don’t appear in Grimm. But so do Ava and her friends. This is a YA story, but like the other stories in the issue, a place where the imaginative and logical leaps makes it all sing.
“A Long Spoon” is a new adventure of Johannes Cabal, a wizard from Jonathan L. Howard‘s 2009 novel. He had conjured up the devil Zerenyia since there have been attempts on Cabal’s life by the Chinese sorcerer Luan Da, who is hiding out in Pandemoneum. But Zereniya is not just any devil: she’s half human and half spider, and has a wicked sense of humor. Howard creates a fascinating character, a devil with a real joi de vivre, and Cabel, with his sly and sardonic sense of humor, is a worthy partner. The story is pure entertainment, and I would love to see more of the series, and will definitely go find the book.
Ken Liu takes on a favorite legend of mine in “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon.” It is based on the story of Niulang and Zhinu, two Chinese lovers who have been placed in the heavens and can only see each other one day a year. It segues to the story of lovers Yuan and Jing who are on a cusp: Jing is going to college in the US and Yuan is afraid he will forget about her. The story, which appeared earlier this year in the YA anthology Kaleidoscope, cleverly weaves the legend into the modern story, and has much to say about the nature of long-term relationships.
Overall, this was a superb collection of stories with which to end the year.