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

Tor.com -- January 2012

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Tor.com, Janaury 2012

“Swift, Brutal Retaliation” by Meghan McCarron

Reviewed by Sherry Decker

I enjoyed this story ─ a lot. It isn’t perfect, but close enough.

Brigid and Sinead are sisters. Their older brother, Ian, has died and as the story begins the two girls are in the front pew at his funeral. The younger sister Brigid appreciates the lilting rhythmic reading by their aunt, “Saint Paul to the Corinthians.” Sinead is an angry, silent dissenter, convinced that faith is a waste of time, and if God is real He can’t be trusted.

Sisters often have a relationship that fluctuates between rivalry, revenge and loyalty, like soldiers ducking for cover in the same foxhole. Brigid’s and Sinead’s immaturity aids them in surviving the traumatic event of their brother’s death. They are caught up in playing pranks on each other and refusing to acknowledge the increasing seriousness of those pranks. When they both see their brother in ghostly form, Sinead in her bedroom and Brigid in the kitchen, they decide he needs their help, and like good sisters they try to communicate with him. Their attempts result in stirring his anger, and his anger becomes a frightening thing.

A dysfunctional family dynamic is revealed to the girls and to the reader in the final scene, and I was left wondering, what kind of twisted, angry people will these two girls become later in life. This story could be the first chapter in a book.

“Swift, Brutal Retaliation” is one of my favorites, even with the occasional adverb, and the unfortunate but brief author intrusion “(re-ready?).”  The tale has strong characters, strong tension development and a very believable storyline, even with the paranormal element.