It’s truly autumn in my little corner of the UK now. The leaves have turned and fallen, the conkers have past, and I’m breaking out my box of scarves. This morning, I was walking through the churchyard behind my flat, crunching through red and gold leaves, when a black cat crossed my path. It was the Hallowe’eniest thing, and I’ll take it as a sign that the Great Pumpkin is smiling upon me.
Spoiler warning! While I try to avoid overt content spoilers in my reviews, I wanted to talk briefly about something in Alyssa Wong’s story, so maybe avoid that if you don’t want to know a detail about the ending.
Without further ado, here’s my reviews of the four stories I read in the month of September. A star next to the story’s title indicates I think it’s a must-read.
- Those Brighter Stars by Mercurio D. Rivera
- ★ Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon
- ★ A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
- The Siren Son by Tristina Wright
Those Brighter Stars by Mercurio D. Rivera
Those Brighter Stars is a First Contact story featuring a neurodivergent protagonist whose particular skill is a powerful empathy akin to telepathy. Written in first person loosely as a letter to the protagonist’s mother, who had been absent throughout our protagonist’s life, this story explores the theme of parenthood and of trying to earn parental attention.
This story is sure to appeal to fans of hard science and interpersonal relationships, because it has them in spades. Especially given our current political environment, I enjoyed the accurate depiction of science as a cooperative, international field. Those Brighter Stars feels so spot on about so many things, I find it a great depiction of a world just a couple of years or even months from ours.
★ Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon
When a dumb boy fucks up catching a jackalope woman, it’s down to his grandmother to fix what he broke. Deep American myth with one badass elder woman character; and this is my most favourite Ursula Vernon story to date. Appropriately, it also won a Nebula, a Cóyotl and a WSFA Small Press Award.
This story is everything you need if you, like me, hunger after stories of women laying themselves on the line to save other women. This story is very much its own thing, so I’m loath to compare it with anything, but if you, like me, loved Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax, then this is the story for you. Long live badass old ladies in fiction!
★ A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
Why did I wait so long to read this story?
It’s not like I hadn’t heard of it before. It’s not like I didn’t know how well praised it had been. What could have possessed me?
In this story by Alyssa Wong (see posts passim for some of her other sterling work), there were once two witches who were sisters, Hannah and Melanie. Melanie was the more powerful of the two—but she’s gone now, having taken the rest of the world with her, and Hannah keeps turning back the clock to try and save her.
This story broke my heart a thousand times, and there’s so much to unpack in here. Melanie, a trans girl, dies because of her and Hannah’s parents’ bullying. Hannah, her cis, actor sister, despite knotting time up like a tangle of wool, can’t find a way to save her.
Apocalyptic and multi-dimensional witchery has got to be one of my favourite things (alongside whiskers on kittens and warm woollen mittens), and sisterly love follows close.
Though Melanie dies and the story is narrated by her sister Hannah, Melanie is the pivot on which the story—and the multiverse—turns. I know this is a story about survivor’s guilt and the lengths to which someone can or should go to save someone else, even the person they love most dearly in all the world, but even so… I’m still going to be sad about Melanie, okay?
Maybe don’t read this if you can’t take any more queer tragedy. If you can, though, it’s a beautiful, involving story almost as powerful as its main character.
The Siren Son by Tristina Wright
When I say this story reads like fanfiction, please take it as a compliment.
In a world wholly unlike our own, sandwiched in between the pages of history, there’s a boy who is the son of a siren and a human. In the unjust streets of his human city, he falls in love with a boy who is more than he seems. When dragons burst from the earth and wage war on humankind, our siren’s son and his love are at the very heart of it.
This is the first thing I’ve read by Tristina Wright and I’m kinda wondering what I’ve been doing with my life. In this story Wright is making queer fantasy myth, gifting her protagonists the trappings of heroism—supernatural ancestry, global importance, and an epic love story. On top of this, there’s our main character’s struggle with a lack of belonging due to mixed descent.