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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #275, April 11, 2019

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #275, April 11, 2019

The Red Honey Witch” by Jessica Paddock

Boiled Bones and Black Eggs” by Nghi Vo

Reviewed by Jeffrey Steven Abrams

The Red Honey Witch” by Jessica Paddock

In this ethereal tale, Erotti is a twelve-year-old girl protected by bees, because the swarms frighten her little village. Loneliness is the price she pays for safety. Eventually, she comes to hate her protectors. One day in youthful bitterness, she wishes her mother dead, and the bees gruesomely obey.

Following her mother’s death, Erotti’s father sends her to live with good witch Vidya. Under the old woman’s guidance, she begins to outgrow her immaturity, but only after making a particularly horrible choice does she learns about her proper place in the world.

The story’s location is never mentioned, but there’s a mystical sense in the surroundings; perhaps influenced by native-American or ancient Chinese lore.

Erotti is expertly portrayed as a confused, emotional, preteen. More often than not, she is selfish, irritating, and calculating, but her evolution is the heart of the story and makes “Red Honey” well worth reading.

Boiled Bones and Black Eggs” by Nghi Vo

Upon reading the title, I expected something quirky, and this tale about the Drunken Rooster, a small Chinese inn that serves food to both the living and dead, didn’t disappoint.

The story revolves around Lord Ming, a cruel, recently slain warlord who, even though he complains bitterly about the Rooster’s food, refuses to leave. Between cooking scenes that make your mouth water are lessons about patience, cruelty, honor, and redemption.

Gem-like phrases can be found throughout the story. For example, to describe the main character’s age, the author writes, “When it came to pass that I could see over the edge of the table.” In another fine illustration, Vo captures the essence of gruff Aunt Hua with, “most people won’t say no to something that starts with a chopped leek and a dead chicken.”

Although there are gruesome scenes as the ending approaches, the bulk of the story flows gently. It weaves folklore, local customs, and a healthy dose of fantasy to produce a wonderfully readable story.