Strange Horizons, November 10, 2014
Reviewed by Charles Payseur
A small frog finds love for his empress tragically incomplete in the very short “Once, Upon a Lime” by E. Catherine Tobler. After being attracted first to the most beautiful garden in the land and then to the garden’s owner, Salima Sultan Begum, the frog begins to perfume himself in lotus blossoms and serenade his empress with songs. And being a true gentleman, the frog’s love remains chaste, his manners impeccable. He continues to sing and to sit on the limes of his empress’ garden and finds peace there, only to have that peace broken with Salima’s sudden death. Separated from his purpose and love, the frog is left wondering what will come next, and decides to wait to see if she will return to him in another form. A bit melancholic and a bit ridiculous, the story is something of a puzzle. Without drawing itself out, it seems to aim for being fast and entertaining, and succeeds at that, though there is an almost incomplete feel to it, a wanting for more, which perhaps mirrors the frog’s own truncated courtship.
A young boy, the banished brother to the Governor of a wealthy space station, learns some hard lessons and finds himself in the middle of a devious plot in Ann Leckie‘s “She Commands Me and I Obey.” The boy, Her-Breath-Contains-The-Universe (also named Qefahl Aresh), was given to a monastery to keep him out of political intrigues only for him to become a sort of pawn to the Abbot to force his brother, the Governor, out of office. The story takes place around a game, one that decides who will be elected to a ruling council, and one that the Governor fully intends to win, even if it means cheating to get it. When Her-Breath-Contains finds out about the cheating, though, he acts, warning the opposing side about the deceit and eventually leading to his brother’s defeat. The loss has much greater implications, though, and before Her-Breath-Contains realizes what he has done the situation is completely different, and he must strive to find a way to keep his head about him and try to do the right thing. Bold and entertaining, the story provides some solid fun and some interesting moments as Her-Breath-Contains learns a little of the world he lives in. I felt some of the conflict was a little black and white, and some of the characters a little too “evil” to really make interesting antagonists, but overall the story performed admirably. And there was subtlety and intrigue to make it complicated enough to be fun, a game worth watching to the end.
Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of pets in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming at Perihelion Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @ClowderofTwo