When The Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo – A cleric must tell a story to three tiger sisters. Chih has the length of a night to tell the story of the famed tiger Ho Thi Thao and her human scholar lover, with the threat of being eaten looming over a bad telling. The three tigers interject throughout the night, jumping between humorous corrections and dire warnings to tell their version of the tale. The arc of the story itself is wonderful, while also exploring the ways stories and history are told and remembered.
From the very first paragraph of this book, you know you’re in for an absolute treat. I had to read the first few pages over again just to bask in my delight – a book with a protagonist who uses they/them pronouns, and that opens with a description of a woman’s charming mustache? AND there’s mammoths? An unmitigated joy. Vo is adept at crafting an expansive, living world in just a few words. The descriptions of and nods to weather, clothing, food, military units and kingdom histories are exquisite. This feeling continues throughout, as Chih and Si-yu try to placate the tigers, and as Ho Thi Thao and her lover leap across different tellings of their own story.
Monster by Demi-Louise Blackburn at All Worlds Wayfarer – A sea monster encounters a submarine. I love the language used in the opening – it feels very lonely and oppressive in a way that sets up the monster’s solitude and the divide between the monster and the human really nicely. Brief moments of hope chilled by the waters of a frigid ocean.
Felt Along the Seam by Kelly Sandoval at Flash Fiction Online – A girl peels away ghosts in the school bathroom. This story sent me reeling back to painful memories of high school, of the desire for every bad feeling to just vanish. Packed with evocative descriptions of the removal of ghosts like peeling away a sunburn, of pain comforting other pain, this story travels back in time to confront the ghosts of your younger selves.
A Preliminary Study of Humans Under Beastly Enchantments and COVID-19 by Mari Ness in Departure Mirror Quarterly – Its what the title says: an academic study of the effects of covid-19 on magically transformed populations. I’ve been avoiding covid-related fiction, but this one had such a sense of humor and intriguing setup that I couldn’t step away. The study unfolds with a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humor – tigers tending cursed magical roses simply haven’t had the time to take note of whats going on in human society, while enchanted rats report delight at the ability to have groceries delivered. I thought the formatting was so clever (although where is the literature review??) and the conclusion section was very charming.