Fantasy Magazine, November 2010
“Mademoiselle and the Chevalier” by Mari Ness
“Liminal” by E. Catherine Tobler
“Mortis Persona” by Barbara A. Barnett
“From The Countries Of Her Dreams” by Jay Lake and Shannon Page
Reviewed by Richard E.D. Jones
Offering itself as the place to go for everything from modern mythcraft to magic surrealism (an admittedly narrow niche), Fantasy Magazine posts one new story each Monday. Which lets us as readers get a nice hit on our fantasy button every week.
How nice? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Mari Ness started off the month with a sly, quite well-written story called “Mademoiselle and the Chevalier,” a crafty retelling of the myth of the B. . . Well, that would be telling and would ruin the surprise.
I absolutely loved the style Ness used in this story. Each line of exposition in the narrative had the sound of a slightly-past-her-prime village dowager leaning in delicately to whisper the latest gossip. Very, very well done and quite in keeping with the story.
The Mademoiselle returns from a mysterious sojourn, dripping with jewels and new clothing for her two sisters and three brothers. She also wears a fox stole, with head still attached, and a very large ring holding a rough-cut ruby. Her newfound wealth of course attracts suitors, including the money-hungry Chevalier.
Through circumstances both contrived and convoluted, the Chevalier receives a kiss from the Mademoiselle, proving that not all kisses are sweet as wine.
Ness really delivers in this story, providing interesting characters, a fantastic voice for the story, and a plot obfuscated just enough to make the conclusion worth the work.
In “Liminal,” E. Catherine Tobler presents us with the story of three sisters on the run from dangerous forces. The interesting thing about these sisters is there are only two of them present on the physical plane. The third sister hovers ghostly, narrating the proceedings as she exists intertwined between her two sisters.
Not all that unusual, the state of the third sister, especially considering she starts out the story deader than a very dead doornail.
Gemma, Sombra and Honna are three sisters of unusual provenance, who lived with their mother and in the shadow of an absent, possibly magical father. The three sisters have a talent, for metal calls to them and allows them to find precious value in the hard-packed dirt of their home.
They are kidnapped by a ruffian and taken on a forced march, during which Honna and their kidnapper plunge to their death from a high bridge. The living sisters, and their ghostly sister, take refuge on a circus train. Oddly enough, especially for a circus train in a fantasy story, things are not what they seem.
Tobler writes a very nice story here, giving the unusual perspective of the dead sister some real weight. Although there were some things that were just a little too coincidental, I thought, the story still holds together nicely.
If you’re in the mood for a dense and creepy story, you can’t go wrong with “Liminal.”
Despite leading off her story with a cliché, Barbara A. Barnett does offer a good tale for the reader in “Mortis Persona.”
Taking her title from the actor’s dramatis persona and giving it a clever, post-mortal conceit, Barnett tells the tale of the actor Caldus and the deceased patrician Aulus Vedius Aper. In this alternate Rome, the souls of the wealthy dead are bound into lifelike death masks, those souls to be brought back by talented actors on special occasions.
However, to wear the death mask of someone an actor had known in life is to court insanity or worse. Caldus and Portia, brother and sister, are poor players who cannot afford to turn down any engagement, even when Caldus’ charge is to bring back to life the soul of his dead lover, Aper.
Barnett’s lush prose does a fantastic job of building this world and showing the reader the torment Caldus goes through, as well as the powerful temptation he feels to surrender to the torment.
The only fault I found in the story was that I really wanted to know more about Caldus’ life after the fateful performance, rather than being skipped around in time, touching only here and there upon his later life. Maybe Barnett did her job too well and I just wanted to spend more time with her characters.
The death of a god is never easy, especially on those followers who depended on that god for protection. The death of the goddess Marya has left her priestess Laris in dire straits in “From the Countries of Her Dreams” by Jay Lake and Shannon Page.
Laris lost not only her goddess, but her sister Solis when men came hunting to kill the divine. Now serving as priestess to Mother Iron, who looks over women and the poor, basically one and the same in this cold, dreary world, Laris is haunted by dreams of her sister.
In her night job as a prostitute, Solis met and fell in love with a simple grocer’s boy. After her death, Laris kept Radko from the funeral. Now Laris, fighting the bitter cold of winter, the dearth of customers and also fighting to protect her goddess from more incursions by angry foreigners and their gods, must find some way to help Solis and Radko say good-bye.
Lake and Page do a great job building up the world of Laris through small details, giving we readers just enough of a glimpse of the complicated politics underlying both the work of men and of gods. A sympathetic character with quirks and strengths enough to set her apart from similar characters in weaker stories, Laris provides a wonderful narrative bedrock from which to explore this world.
I really enjoyed this story and would love to find out more about this world.
To wrap up, Fantasy Magazine offered a great November full of stories I think you’ll enjoy.