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Jabberwocky 2, edited by Sean Wallace
Posted byAliette de Bodard
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"The Dark Lady" by Megan Messinger "Fix" by Jeannelle M. Ferreirra
"Canvas, Mirror, Glass" by Holly Phillips
"Brillig" by Richard Parks
"The Trickster In My Belly" by Erzebet YellowBoy
"Love Story" by Cassandra Phillips-Sears
Jabberwocky 2 opens with "The Second Coming" by Yeats, a humorous reference to it being the second of this series of anthologies edited by Sean Wallace. Jabberwocky is mostly poetry, and very good poetry too, but it features short stories as well, and several of them are worth a read.
"The Dark Lady" by Megan Messinger refers both to the pirate ship the action takes place on as well as the captive woman, Carlotta, who becomes the object of the pirate captain’s affection. The narrator, Nym, a carpenter turned shipwright, has a wry, caustic wit that serves the story well. I liked very much the details of everyday life on the ship (attacks on other ships, that classic of piratical adventure, are barely alluded to) and the binding community Messinger evokes. The author manages to deftly paint a bygone way of life without resorting to clichés.
The one thing that did not work for me, however, is the ending. It was unexpected, and for a moment I felt pleasantly surprised, and then realized it left too many things unexplained. Also, I felt cheated by all the foreshadowing that turned out to be for nothing.
"Fix" by Jeannelle M. Ferreirra is narrated by a ghost, one of the many who congregate in subway stations. The person he addresses is one of the living who, traveling on the subway, is trailed by the hungry ghost of a young girl.
Ghost stories tend to take one of two approaches: either the ghosts are vengeful spirits hungry for human lives, or they are sad, misshapen things who yearn for what they cannot have. Ferreirra has chosen the second approach, and it gives the story a poignancy about wasted lives it might not have had otherwise. The prose is gorgeous and masterfully evokes the trains and stations crowded by the dead. But it is the last line that gives the story its true punch, making the reader see the ghosts in a new light, one neither sad nor happy.
"Canvas, Mirror, Glass" by Holly Phillips is a superb story about art and the role of the model. Isobel agrees to let Didier, a flamboyant artist, paint her portrait. As the painting progresses, Isobel develops a relationship with Michelle, a would-be painter bitter at Didier because he deems her a failure. Michelle’s hints cause Isobel to wonder which is more important: the portrait or herself. Phillips’s prose is lush, but she also gives the story depth by reflecting on the relation between the self, the painted self, and the painter. Though not a speculative story, "Canvas, Mirror, Glass" opens a window on a magical part of the ordinary world. The ending is both unexpected and moving. Thoroughly recommended.
"Brillig" by Richard Parks is the story of a man who struggles not to speak the "Jabberwocky" poem. Every time the narrator recites it, something bad happens to him. The story grows more incoherent as the poem invades the narrator’s mind. I found the idea an intriguing and original one, but ultimately too flimsy to bear the full weight of the tale. The narration was deliberately rambling, but as a result it left me cold. The ending did nothing for me.
The narrator of "The Trickster In My Belly" by Erzebet YellowBoy has swallowed the eponymous trickster. (I am not sure of their gender, but several clues within the story made me think it was a woman.) The trickster makes her play tricks on everyone she meets, and so she goes to meet an old woman who can tell her how to live with the trickster.
"The Trickster In My Belly" has a familiar fairy tale ring, but the story does a good job of adapting the trickster figure to modern times. As the story progressed, I found myself more and more repulsed by the jokes (frankly dangerous and downright mean) and waiting for the narrator to get her comeuppance. Sadly, the plot does not hold. I saw no reason why the narrator would want to see the old woman in the first place—she seems to be living quite well with the trickster—and because of that, the ending fell flat.
"Love Story" by Cassandra Phillips-Sears takes place in a medieval village. The narrator, Mary, wants to wait until she has found her true love to marry. Her parents have told her repeatedly that if she stays an unwed virgin, she will attract a dragon’s attention, but Mary pays no attention. Sure enough, a dragon comes to her.
The dragon who kidnaps or eats maidens is a staple of fantasy. Most takes on it tend to be humorous, but Philips-Sear opts for a darker approach that allows her to twist other elements of medieval myths. The ending manages to bring the story full circle and to make the reader reconsider clichéd images of dragons and virgins. In that sense, the story is both darkly original and satisfying.
Altogether, this issue of Jabberwocky was a pleasure. The singing prose of many of the stories is a delight, and the Holly Philips story by itself is definitely worth several reads.