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

KNOTS: Short Fiction by Wendy Walker

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“The Cathedral”
“Ashiepattle”
“The Twin Knots”
“A Story Out of Omarie”

KNOTS:
Short Fiction by Wendy Walker is the latest offering from Aqueduct Press’s Conversation Pieces series. Walker uses European poems and fairy tales as her inspiration and source material, merging rich language and modern ideas with classic plot lines to craft complex adult fare. Her stories, particularly “The Twin Knots” and “A Story Out of Omarie,” rely on strong female narration, which weaves a feminist thread throughout.

“The Cathedral” is a flash fiction piece about those murmurings one hears in places that are supposed to be completely silent. The plot is simple. The artworks gather to gossip and lament that the cathedral was never finished, never discussing religion or falling into the hierarchical roles one might expect. Walker evokes the mood that comes over a person when they enter a place heavy with history and wish the walls could talk.

The original “Ashiepattle” is the Grimm Brothers’ telling of the Cinderella story. Walker’s version has many of the same elements, but is told primarily from the prince’s point of view. Now king, the former prince reflects on how he met his wife and queen, pondering what it was about her that captivated him so. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t recall her face as she was then; mostly, he remembers her sumptuous clothes. Walker opens a window into his mind, letting the reader experience his growing obsession with Ashiepattle and his intense desire to solve the mystery of her parentage. In alternating sections, the reader gets glimpses of the queen as she oversees the construction of a fabulous bird palace.

Walker’s “Ashiepattle” isn’t a fairy tale in the truest sense—it’s much more subtle—providing a narrower perspective of the events, with no moral and very little romance. The absence of romance puts a mature spin on a story that usually hinges on the prince’s deep infatuation. Framing “Ashiepattle” in such an atypical way sets Walker’s version apart. However, much of the character motivation is implied. We never really get to know the queen or understand her deep connection to the birds. Nor do we really get to know the king, just his past obsession.

“Ashiepattle” is exceptionally well written, yet feels incomplete. The only way to really grasp what is going on is to become familiar with the original tale; being cognizant with the popular version of Cinderella won’t be enough to fill in the details. Readers will enjoy Walker’s evocative prose but might want to research more of the stimulus for events in the Grimm Brothers’ version of “Ashiepattle.”

“The Twin Knots” is a complex tale of love and adventure. Based on the poetic narrative “Guigemar” from the Lais of Marie de France, the story revolves around the knight, Gugemar. Indifferent to love, Gugemar captures the attention of the goddess Venus who serves as both narrator and commentator for several parts of the story. Along the way, Gugemar is wounded, cursed by a magic hind, and sails away on a magic ship to land on an island where he finds a curative and an all consuming love with Godelive. As a pledge of their troth, the lovers each tie a knot for the other that only they can undo, which provides the story its title.

“The Twin Knots” must be enjoyed in its entirety rather than broken down into its component elements. As an adventure, Walker’s tale gets off to an interesting start and bogs down in the middle before picking up again. As a love story, “The Twin Knots” starts off a bit flat and picks up steam towards the end. Taken as an adult fairy tale, the story has all the necessary elements and more. Delve into it to witness the transformative powers of love and to experience the depth and beauty of Wendy Walker’s discourse.

The final story in the KNOTS collection is “A Story Out of Omarie,” which takes place in a time when women were disposable. The lovely Hodierna finds love three times, once before and twice after misfortune strikes, and she is stuffed in a barrel and cast into the sea. The narrator is a Sultan’s daughter who spins out the history of her mother, Hodierna, for her husband-to-be. Taking place both in France and the Middle East, Hodierna’s tale spans two cultures and touches upon two very different sets of values. The unnamed narrator is compelling, and Hodierna’s story is vivid and entrancing. The words leap off the page to form a visual interpretation of the unfolding events. “A Story Out of Omarie” is the strongest offering in this collection.

Don’t read Wendy Walker for her characters. Although you may end up liking them, her stories are rooted in older traditions where there was more to the tale than how much you liked or hated the protagonists. Read her work for the history, the complex tales, and the vivid language offered—where the true beauty of Walker’s work lies.

Publisher: Aqueduct Press
Paperback price: $9.00
ISBN: 1933500085