Reviewed by Nicky Magas
The world of Yoon Ha Lee’s “Two to Leave” is a dry, desperate place. Tasked with destroying the Keep of Silent Bells, our mercenary protagonist trespasses into forbidden territory, fulfills his violent task and must now somehow return without a specific plan for how to pay the ferryman. The toll for safe passage over the weaponized river is simple: one eye to enter the parched lands and two to leave. But the unnamed mercenary has only his boots and his heart, and one he is much more willing to part with than the other.
There is a lot in this story that remains untold, which might have become tiresome if not for the natural lyricism of the prose. The language and cadence of the story bridge the gaps of information and allow the reader to fill in their own hypotheses as to this strange desert world and its decidedly supernatural inhabitants. The first person protagonist reveals enough about him or herself to be intriguing, but never so much that the reader gets a definitive sense of who or what they are. The weaponization of hearts also remains something of a mystery to the end, as does the often-mentioned ‘thirst,’ which, within the context of the story, could just as easily be literal as figurative. What’s clear is that there is a full, rich world bubbling just under the surface of this story, but we, the readers must only skim the surface.
Kay Chronister’s “The Warriors, The Mothers, The Drowned” tells the story of an immigrant mother’s desperate attempt to save the life of her child. After Ana’s husband abandons his family to escape his debts, Ana is forced to flee as well to save her ailing daughter Sylvie from death at the hands of his debtors. But the desert she runs to knows that Sylvie’s time among the living has finished. When the coyote comes to take the child to the world after, Ana insists on walking the grueling gauntlet of the spirit lands in the hope of saving her child. How can one woman save what has already gone? No path is clear for Ana, but Sylvie’s life must be spared at any cost.
“The Warriors, The Mothers, The Drowned” is another story with fantastically poetic prose. The opening paragraph sets the desolate scene wonderfully, and lingers with the reader for the remainder. The throb of magic comes from a mixture of ancient and modern Mexican folklore and casts the reader into unfamiliar and dangerous territory. While the ending takes a decidedly less emotional path than where it hints it might end up, it nonetheless concludes the story well as a temporary solution to Ana’s everlasting problem.