Strange Horizons — September 16, 2019

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Strange Horizons, September 16, 2019

“This is How” by Marie Brennan

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

A supernatural being known as a valravn, half-human and half-bird, appears in “This is How” by Marie Brennan. It appears when a raven feeds on the heart’s blood of a dead child. The valravn is a murderous creature, absorbing the souls of those it kills. It releases all the souls except two, that of the dead child and that of a man who asked it for forgiveness. It faces a choice that will determine whether it dies, goes on killing, or becomes something better.

More of a prose poem than a traditionally narrated work of fiction, this brief tale is very well written and is full of striking images. Readers who insist on rigid logic in fantasy may object that some of the ways in which the valravn acts violate the rules that the author sets up for such an entity. The story seems to be an allegory of redemption, but the author’s intent is not always clear.

Victoria Silverwolf is currently binge watching The Dick Van Dyke Show.