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

Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, July 2017

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Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, July 2017

"The Stork and the Crone" by Barbara A. Barnett

"Tree With Chalicotheres" by Vicki Saunders

Reviewed by Jason McGregor

Both stories from this month of Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores are fantasies which are filed under "Stories for Young People from 4 to 400." Especially in the case of the second story, they are definitely suitable for an audience of 10 to 100, at least.

"The Stork and the Crone" by Barbara A. Barnett

Deifilia is an arrogant stork delivering babies for the Goddess but an evil woman has conspired with a hexcaster who has conspired with the lord of the underworld to curse the goddess and cause babies to be misdirected to her. A crone tries to cozy up to the stork on behalf of her childless daughter but the stork wants nothing to do with a mere human. Eventually, she learns of the curse and attempts to do something about it and then learns what a mother, or everyone, should know.

The stork, crone, and perhaps goddess are all characters of a sort but the villains are ciphers and, worse, the direct human interest, the maiden, is virtually non-existent. It also makes little sense (except perhaps in fairy tale terms) that the goddess is silent about her plight until the stork figures it out herself. Also, I'm not sure if this is a variant of a fairy tale or an original fleshing out of the stork concept but the literal rendering of the stork makes the childbearing oddly emotionless or just plain odd, despite expressions of desire, love, gratitude. For instance, the crone and maiden basically seem to have the child between themselves with nary a man in this universe (aside from the evil hexcaster and, perhaps, the underworld god). (Also, I think the stork's name is supposed to mean "lover of god" or "beloved by god" - like Theophilus - but makes me think of "defiler" which was certainly not the aim.) All that said, if you are disposed to be interested in tales like this, it should merit that interest. The stork is well-realized and Learns Better, the crone is fairly effective, and the story moves along, with the final struggle being described well.

"Tree With Chalicotheres" by Vicki Saunders

Magda is an orphan, living with her ex-stepmother, Carla. Well, living near her, as Magda basically lives in her treehouse rather than in the little attic space that's supposed to be her room. The problem is that Carla's boyfriend wants the tree cut down, as he's tired of cleaning gutters. Magda refuses to come down, so the guy with the chainsaw refuses to cut down the tree. Firemen, cops, social workers, are called in but Magda holds firm. Things take a strange turn when she meets a boy she's never seen before and enlists his aid when she runs out of food. Something of a trickster, he looks around and then disappears down the magic portal in the tree and she follows, learning some things about him and his mysterious "gran" and the tree. As well as learning about extinct critters who are very much alive. Despite this, matters in the prosaic world come to a head when the boyfriend and chainsaw man conspire to trick her. At the risk of giving away too much, what ultimately happens is a mixture that is simultaneously upsetting and rewarding.

I'll grant that the logistics of the magic tree and the boy (and the larger issues around them) are a bit confusing and that the story's components may be too familiar to dedicated fantasy fans (and that the firefighters are implausibly ineffective) but I enjoyed this. The "wicked stepmother" is not painted with just one color and even the bit players have bits of distinction. The conflict is dramatic and vivid and it's easy to "root" for Magda. I think many young people would really relate to this story and many less young people will find it brings familiar feelings back to the surface. The conclusion is neither simplistically pat nor an unpleasant mess but just right.


More of Jason McGregor's reviews can be found on his Featured Futures blog.