Fantasy Magazine #53, August 2011
“The World is Cruel, My Daughter” by Cory Skerry
“The Pragmatical Princess” by Nisi Shawl (reprint, not reviewed)
“Crossroads” by Laura Anne Gilman
Reviewed by Caroline E Willis
“The World is Cruel, My Daughter” by Cory Skerry is horrific. It is also a fairy tale–Rapunzel’s fairy tale–but there is no magic in it. There is sunshine turning dust into gold flecks and the ebb and flow of a winter marsh and the warmth of a kitten’s breath, but there is no magic. Just people–one of whom is the single most sympathetic serial killer I’ve ever read.
Rapunzel’s mother is bald and old and aching from the wounds of her youth. Her knowledge was not enough to save her lover’s brother, and so she was condemned as a witch and raped and beaten and shorn of her hair and then branded across her scalp to keep it from ever growing back. Everything this woman does is to protect her daughter from a similar fate. If you knew in every poorly set bone that the world held such evil, what would you do to protect your children from it?
Much and more–that is what she does to keep Rapunzel safe. But Skerry’s world is not that simple, and her actions breed their own horrors. I cannot overstate the depth of intensity here; it is a powerful and frightening read.
“Crossroads” by Laura Anne Gilman is the story of a lawman who stumbles across two dueling magicians at a crossroads. One is a cheerful, laughing man with a rope around his neck; the other is a surly man in black. The lawman, John, greets them both and chats amicably while the sun inches closer to high noon. When noon comes, the magicians disregard him, in order to fight–and given this opportunity, John thwarts their duel altogether.
It is written in the third person limited perspective of John, a lawman in a dangerous land, and his brief, fevered thoughts serve to illustrate both the world of the story and his own mental state. Not a single word of Gilman’s fantasy western is wasted; definitely worth a read.