“The Stable Master’s Tale” by Rachel Swirsky
“The Seal of Sulaymaan” by Tracy Canfield
“Violets for Lee” by Desirina Boskovich
“Perhaps this is Kushi’s Story” by Swapna Kishore
Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell
“The Stable Master’s Tale” by Rachel Swirsky – July 5, 2010
“The Stable Master’s Tale” by Rachel Swirsky tells the story of a baron’s daughter. Fearing a tedious future, she leaves home to become the hired help to a neighboring king, where she works her way to the position of stable master. When her employer’s band of knights kill dragons and raid their lair, the knights return not only with gold, but with a dragon egg. It’s given to the king’s daughter, the stereotypically spoiled princess, but the hatchling soon becomes the stable master’s charge. Knowing the beast is intelligent and social, she advocates killing it, but she goes along when the king opts to maim it instead.
Though the king expects his knights to repel the inevitable dragon attack, it doesn’t happen that way. During the attack, the maimed young dragon demonstrates courage, intelligence and compassion. I couldn’t help but notice that these were qualities missing in the stable master.
I’m usually a sucker for a dragon story, but I’d not recommend this one. Its most notable feature is that the main character, for which the story is named, could be removed entirely without impacting the plot. Of the four stories this month, this was the one I liked least.
“The Seal of Sulaymaan” by Tracy Canfield – July 12, 2010
Despite its slow start, “The Seal of Sulaymaan” by Tracy Canfield, intrigued me. Set in Morocco, it’s the story of a jinn searching for a goat-like quarry. What that was, and why it was important she find it, I had no idea. All I knew was that the sight of an inscribed copper bottle upset her. I was, however, willing to read further to find out. But after she’d crossed the desert on a camel, visited twenty perfume shops, took on the form of a dog, scented around and then looked at carpets, all without providing any more plot clues, my interest waned. The breaks in the story, for some reason, are numbered, and, had I not been reviewing it, I’d have quit at number seven, with the sheep. Though I’d have stopped, the journey didn’t. After visiting some cousins, she went home to discover her goat-like enemy had been there before her. Oh, and the copper bottle showed up periodically. Finally, she used a sheep to lure her enemy. They fought, and an old man handed her the bottle, where she noticed something she hadn’t, earlier. That’s pretty much it. I think this story could become something interesting, but it isn’t there yet.
“Violets for Lee” by Desirina Boskovich – July 19, 2010
“Violets for Lee” by Desirina Boskovich is, in my opinion, weird, but also the most compelling of July’s four offerings. It was the only story I read in one sitting, and the only one I would have finished, had I not been reviewing. It’s the tale of a woman seeking sugar from her neighbors so she can bake a cake to commemorate her sister’s birthday. As she meanders, barefoot, from house to house, it becomes apparent her sister is dead, and that the protagonist was driving the car the previous summer, when it happened.
The story is rambling and disjointed, almost stream of consciousness, but it does an excellent job of conveying the character’s pain and grief, and her inability to cope with everyday life. Although I might have thought worse of it, had it been in more exalted company, I found it worked, right up to the part where she sees a giant heart in a neighbor’s yard and crawls in. I could suggest that the heart is symbolic, given her emotional journey. However, the cynic in me feels obliged to point out that, although the story might work better with another ending, without this element, it wouldn’t qualify as a fantasy.
“Perhaps this is Kushi’s Story” by Swapna Kishore – July 26, 2010
It took me four tries to get through “Perhaps this is Kushi’s Story” by Swapna Kishore. It’s the story of Younger Sister, who’s eight, and who breaks what her older sister creates. And then it’s the story of Younger Sister listening to a story. After that, it’s the story of Kushi, another eight-year-old, who sees yet another character, ten-year-old Bataar, receive a feather from the gods. He’s evil, but Kushi can’t get any of her tribe to oppose him. When she receives a feather, and with it, instructions from another set of gods, she doesn’t like what they say, so she doesn’t take their advice. It puts her at risk from Bataar, and she’s forced to leave. That’s when the tale, the main one, reverts to Older Sister, who suggests ending the other story by having Kushi take up with nomads. Younger Sister, who’s only younger by minutes, sees it differently. It’s at this point the plot is finally revealed, as Younger Sister has a feather of her own. She needs to decide whether she’ll follow the proper authority, take it by force, or simply assume she has what she needs. As with the rest of the tale, the age of these characters is completely at odds with the maturity of their thoughts and decisions.
The end of the story is the best part of it. Finally, there’s a point to all the bits and pieces that preceded it. The plot problem, although ridiculous for an eight-year-old, is an interesting one. It’s too bad it didn’t have a better tale wrapped around it.