*** “Goddess at the Crossroads” – Kevin Hearne
This is a short story featuring the long-lived Druid Atticus, of Hearne’s popular Iron Druid series. I’ve only read the first installment of that saga, which I believe is now up to eight volumes, but this story seemed very much in keeping with the tone I expected.
Here, Atticus reminisces, telling his friend about the time he saved Shakespeare’s life – and in the process, revealing the real-life artistic inspiration for Macbeth’s infamous witches. Silly fun.
*** “Ashes” – Laura Bickle
Detroit paranormal investigator/arson specialist Anya and her ‘familiar’ salamander pursue a firebug imp known as the Nain Rouge, during a possibly ill-advised event celebrating the supernatural being. (http://marchedunainrouge.com/)
Pleasant enough, but not terribly memorable, the short story clearly fits in with a larger series.
*** “The Death of Aiguillon” – Aliette de Bodard
Set in the same world as her recent ‘House of Shattered Wings.’ The writing is beautiful, and I love the concept: a decaying, gothic Paris full of fallen angels and ancient elementals. However, the novel was not without its flaws, and neither is this story, although I liked it better. The House of Aiguillon is the latest to fall in the ongoing wars between the angels. One human servant girl escapes with her life – and assists an angel, a being she perceives as ineffable and infinitely greater than herself, to escape as well. He leaves her declaring himself in her debt…
The problem for me is that the crux of the tale hangs on a decision – and the way it’s written, the decision the character makes is out-of-the-blue and inexplicable. I just didn’t buy that, based on the way her psyche was presented, that she would’ve made the decision she did. (And it’s a choice that really requires some convincing explanation.)
***** “One Hundred Ablutions” – Jacqueline Carey
Centuries ago, directed by their god, the Shaladan left the desert and invaded a fertile valley, in the process liberating the native Keren people from their oppressors, the Jagan. Now, select Keren girls are selected for the great honor of becoming a handmaiden to the Shaladan’s god. At least, that’s how the Shaladan perceive their history. If you ask the Keren, you might get a very different answer regarding who is a liberator, who an oppressor, and what constitutes ‘an honor.’
As a small girl, Dala envied the handmaidens and their seeming life of luxury – but by the time she’s chosen to become one she has no interest in a restricted life of enforced celibacy and devotion to a god in whom she does not believe.
Beautiful and powerful, this story masterfully offers insight into the dynamics of invasion and class tensions – and also into some of the universals of humanity: the desire for freedom, the hunger for sex; and also the capability for empathy, obligation and guilt.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Subterranean for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.