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

Fantasy Magazine -- August 2010

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Fantasy Magazine
August 2010


“Stem, Stone, and Bone” by Deb Taber
“And the Blood of Dead Gods will Mark the Score” by Gary Kloster
“The Wizard’s Calico Daughter” by Eilis O’Neal
“Where Shadows Meet Light” by Rachel Swirsky


Reviewed by Duane Donald

“Stem, Stone, and Bone” by Deb Taber - August 2, 2010

Deb Taber’s fantasy/horror story centers on Jacinta, a young woman whose life is changed forever by magic. In fact, the lives of all those in her Venezuelan village are changed.

When Jacinta’s local environs ran out of Venezuelan oil, when the ore mines were all exhausted and the people no longer had incomes, a group of shamans called the Mineral Men came and offered their magic to bring something back to the village that had once been the source of income for the local people. They brought back the cacao plants for chocolate. The problem was, as is often the case with magic…there was a price.

Now the plants, the animals, and the people--nothing remains as it was. Women give birth to stones, not children, and plants that once held cacao beans now open their pods to give birth to hordes of beetles. The locals then capture, shuck, dry, and refine these beetles into delicious, irresistible chocolate and the people at large are none the wiser. I love chocolate, so this idea of dried beetles is especially creepy for me--but it works, and the scheme begins to bring money and vitality back to Jacinta’s people but it does not bring them life. In fact, as the women of the region forever after can only give birth to stones, the area sees its last generation born with Jacinta and her friend Xoch.

As Jacinta grows to womanhood and eventually gives birth to her own stone, she begins to understand the hopelessness of what the Mineral Men really brought to the region. The shamans brought them death, inevitable, irreversible death. Not just death to an individual, but death to an entire people, to an entire future.

Deb Taber opens her story with a very creepy, yet very personal account of the character Jacinta and those around her, thus providing the reader with an almost calm description of the oddities happening to the village people, and in so doing, offers an even more disturbing feel to the story. Taber’s descriptions come off as real and genuine, adding to both the validity of the tale and its eeriness as the story unfolds.  

“And the Blood of Dead Gods will Mark the Score” by Gary Kloster - August 9, 2010

“And the Blood of Dead Gods will Mark the Score” by Gary Kloster takes a look at whatever happened to all those old gods no one uses anymore.

Woody, a tattoo artist just trying to escape his past, finds the past will always find you. His old partner/lover Huck abruptly seeks him out and tells him he has one last caper for him to pull. One last job and they’d both be set from then on. Their job and former profession was to steal the blood of ancient, long-dead gods. Gods were publicly slaughtered, their blood collected by priests for sale, then Woody and Huck would steal the blood and sell it on the blood black market. The blood of the dead gods is then used in drugs (surprise, surprise) or to offer mortals some of the dead gods’ power.

This last big job Huck has in mind, however, is not just any mark but their former partner, and another of Woody’s former loves, Nikolai. During Woody’s absence from the blood black-market his old friend Nikolai had been building up quite a cache of ill-gotten gains, but stealing from Nikolai is more than Woody and Huck had bargained for. As happens with the best laid plans, and this plan seemed sketchy at best, things go awry.

Gary Kloster has several nice, flavorful phrases sprinkled throughout the story but his saturation of flowery and poetic prose begins to take away from the structure of the tale and ultimately weakens it. There were some very nice ideas squirreled away and maybe cutting the poetry by half would have better allowed a more intriguing story to emerge. The excessive foreshadowing in the opening left me a bit confused (though most was later made clear).

For readers who really enjoy their fantasy with poetic turns of phrase and riddled with suggestive innuendo, “And the Blood of Dead Gods will Mark the Score” is for you.  

“The Wizard’s Calico Daughter” by Eilis O’Neal - Ausust 16, 2010

“The Wizard’s Calico Daughter” is an exceptional story. Anya, a sixteen-year-old girl of uncertain origins lives in a gray gabled house. From the outside the house appears as normal. What none of the neighbors know is that inside in addition to a sixteen-year-old girl lives a wizened old wizard (who did not look particularly old).

The wizard decides one day that he wants a child, a daughter, and a little human child soon appears while the calico cat that also lives in the house has one less kitten. This daughter grew as children will, and upon her sixteenth birthday the daughter with the calico face decides she wants to visit the world outside the gray gabled house. She’d never been outside in all her sixteen years, had never in fact even seen what the house looked like, but knew it was time to experience the world. What the girl discovers of the outside world--in opposition to the world she knows inside her magical house, replete with marvelous rooms filled with impossible things--forms the crux of the tale.

How does her wizard “father” deal with his daughter’s wish to leave the comfortable (magical) nest he has built for her? And when she meets a young boy who catches her fancy, what then?

“The Wizard’s Calico Daughter” is well written and Eilis O’Neal does a wonderful job of putting the reader in the head of the girl with the calico face. It’s not quite a fairy tale but does engender the essence of the fairy tale. It was fun without being preachy or dark, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

“Where Shadows Meet Light” by Rachel Swirsky - August 23, 2010

“Where Shadows Meet Light” takes an intriguing look at both the riggers of fame and anonymity. Swirsky examines fame, strangely enough, through the eyes of the ghost of Princess Diana. That aspect alone I found unique, and somehow Swirsky does this successfully without seeming trite or disingenuous.

Diana roams the States (because her ghost has grown bored of the British Isles) and eventually settles at the house of Jeffery, a forty-nine year old homosexual man she finds is just not happy in his own skin. Jeffery has a loving husband, Ray, and together they live a modest and by most standards, an acceptable life.  

Jeffery’s problem is he always wanted to be Diana the princess with all the fame and admiration any person could ever dream. Jeffery was just not happy with the fact that he would live and die in relative anonymity. His husband Ray was more than understanding, and loved Jeffery despite his unreasonable dream of wishing he’d been born the Princess of Wales rather than a gay man of no international note.

Ray gives Jeffery tickets to see the play Forty-Second Street, and they both love the performance. Diana’s ghost goes with them but watches Jeffery more than the play. She is fascinated by Jeffery’s attempts to seem happy with life when she knows he just isn’t. She is at times jealous of Jeffery’s life just as Jeffery is jealous of the life Diana once led. Jeffery has mounds of Diana memorabilia about the house and thinks of her life often just as Diana herself tries to forget that life.

This is a story of conflicting views of life, and ideas that can make people happy but often just make people sad because of what they don’t have. In the end, a ghost just has to accept the death it was given just as the living must accept the lot in life they are given.

Seen through the eyes of Diana‘s ghost, the story builds off of concepts and ideas many of us might find difficult to look at ourselves. Swirsky offers a very well written story and character study. I found her use of Diana’s ghost a very interesting method of looking at fame. Jeffery never really developed for me, however; he came off as a writer’s tool more than an actual character, but I found the idea of the story so interesting I was willing to look past such things. Overall, I recommend this story for its unique view of what it might be like to be one particular ghost.

For its August 30, 2010 issue Fantasy reprinted Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Flower Garden of the Woman Who Could Conjure."