“The Lily and the Horn” by Catherynne M. Valente
Reviewed by Kat Day
This month Fantasy Magazine has been revived for a special ‘Queers Destroy Fantasy’ Issue, and serves up two original stories and two reprints, along with a selection of non-fiction supplements.
Catherynne M. Valente’s “The Lily and the Horn” is a tale rich with glorious imagery. It tells the story of Lady Cassava, the ‘Lily of her House’, preparing for a war at her home in Laburnum Castle. I won’t go into the details of the nature of that war, as it may surprise you (it did me), but let’s just say it’s not a battle of traditional weapons. The Lady is married to Lord Calabar and has six children, but intertwined into the narrative is also the story of her childhood schooling at a place called Floregilium. There she met a girl called Yew, who became the ‘Horn of her House’, and so we have the eponymous Lily and the Horn. It becomes clear that these two had a romantic relationship but, for more than one reason, it was one that could never be fulfilled. It’s a wonderfully descriptive story, full of sights, sounds and tastes, and tinged with a real sense of sadness and longing. This is a story that will stay with you long after you read it.
Kai Ashante Wilson’s “Kaiju maximus®: ‘So Various, So Beautiful, So New’” is rather different. Here we are thrown into a story which, at first, looks like a traditional magical hero-quest type tale. Gradually, we learn it’s something rather different; it seems to be set on Earth, but has elements of a gaming magic system, with both XP and mana mentioned. Elements of romance and loyalty are also touched upon. Although the characters are well-drawn with credible dialogue, and the descriptions are evocative, this story didn’t quite work for me. I found it rather confusing; in particular I had to go back and re-read some of it again before I understood the references to the character of Sofiya, who is mentioned several times but not explicitly present in the story. I was left with a clear sense that there was another, much bigger tale behind this one and, while this can sometimes work in a piece of short fiction, here I’m afraid to say I found it rather unsatisfying. A pity, as there are several very interesting ideas in this story.
Kat Day writes a successful, non-fiction science blog called The Chronicle Flask, which you can find at thechronicleflask.wordpress.com.
She has a doctorate in chemistry and taught the subject for over ten years, but her first love was always science fiction and fantasy. She hopes to finish her novel one day, if she can get the kids to sleep. She lives in Oxfordshire, in England, and would like to apologize in advance for any stray letter u’s in her reviews.