Strange Horizons, August 1 & 8, & 15, 2016
“Gorse Daughter, Sparrow Son” (Parts 1 & 2) by Alena Indigo Anne Sullivan (8-1 & 8-15)
Reviewed by Eric Kimminau
It has been a while since I have partaken of the speculative brand of fiction served by Strange Horizons. I hope to be challenged and delighted as promised.
“Gorse Daughter, Sparrow Son” (Part 1 of 2) by Alena Indigo Anne Sullivan begins innocently enough with our princess, Jocelyn Theodora Grace Blanchefleur Aurora Sofia Antoinette Epona Charity Marina Petranne Violetta Louise, who had been gifted these names by the 13 fairies in attendance at her naming ceremony in the land of Splöstlienne to which she is destined, one day, to rule. Jocelyn was to be schooled by the fairies, in the ways of ruling and managing her kingdom. Each had their own specialty. But the one which interested Jocelyn most was Iomo, a very old and wise fairy who kept the kingdom in balance through her spinning wheel. One day Jocelyn would man the great wheel but not until she was Queen. First must come the balance. Following the death of her father and the grief which came with it, Jocelyn finally was Queen and it was her time to spin the Kingdom back from its grief and back into balance. But instead of listening and spinning into balance, above all her favorite, the gorse bush, with its “promise of bright color and strong limbs, of sharp thorns to hold back the hurt and glorious flowers to soothe the suddenness of loss” took control as she spun herself tightly into the strands of gold and gorse took over the kingdom. Some 100 years later, Matthias Marcusson, the 8th (of 9) son of King Marcus heard the bard’s tales and grew more curious with the passing days. Until he could stand it no longer. Out into the countryside he went and for 4 months he searched for information that would lead him to Splöstlienne and Queen Jocelyn of the golden gorse.
With obvious homage to “Sleeping Beauty” the author has woven a tale which sparks childhood memories and forces one to seek the continuing adventure of the second part. The prose filled my imagination with the power of the great wheel and wonder at how young Matthias would fare against the “Gorse daughter in her tower high—she sings a song, and suitors die! The brambles close around their limbs, and not a one comes out again!”
“Gorse Daughter, Sparrow Son” (Part 2 of 2) begins just as benignly as the beginning of the story, with Matthias learning, as he did playing his Uncle in chess, how to approach the battle that was the land of Splöstlienne, covered in gorse thorns and protecting the Queen in her tower. After watching the attempts of many different suiters, rich armored knights, poor peasants with the simplest of weapons, even one wizard, each end with being swallowed by the gorse, only when it finally came into bloom and he watched the birds swarming to build their protected nests within the embrace of the thorns did he begin to understand that maybe the thorns were there to protect the treasure within rather than to keep unwanted strangers out. So he began to explore the perimeter of the kingdom and discovered, one after another, 12 cottages, each with a single old woman inside. Each remembered the beauty and splendor of Splöstlienne and of the family that had once ruled it. Finally at the 12th cottage, he convinced the elder fairy to change him into a bird, a sparrow, because he “simply needed to know” what had become of the Golden Queen. I won’t spoil the story, or the ending, for those who might be interested in such things, but I will say that the hopeless romantic in me was sorely disappointed with where the author chose to end her tale. I so wanted the “happily ever after” ending but perhaps that was her intention. That we should each spin the world into proper balance as we each hear it.
“In Our Rags of Light” by Shira Lipkin shares a glimpse into the life of Jolene, aka “Jess,” a swamp witch who steals energy from drunken men to warm herself, teasing the energy out of them, dancing a fine line between what she wants to take from them and the danger of what they could take from her. Then she meets Ben, who finds her doing what she does, out in the woods, and knows what she is and somehow she falls in love with him without ever knowing what he is. If this sounds scattered and incoherent and full of incomplete thoughts and snippets of stories mashed together, you have an inkling of how the story progresses and how it ends. Loose ends, incomplete stories, not enough detail to complete the thought and not enough plot to carry to a conclusion with gratis foul language and sex scenes to give the impression the story was going somewhere before an abrupt ending. Just walking off into the wild.
I felt that each of the stories from this month’s Strange Horizons had the opportunity to challenge and delight and just when the author could have brought out the delight, they instead drifted off into an angst that kept them from completing the magic, that felt incomplete and feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled. The opportunity was there. They certainly offered alternatives to reality but for me, not much more.
Eric Kimminau is a BBS geek turned IT professional now playing in the world of Grownups and responsibility.