The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington – Phenderson Djéli Clark

Fireside Magazine Issue 52, February 2018

Spoilers Ahead!

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington is a 2019 Hugo Awards finalist in the Best Short Story category.

“By Cash pd Negroes for 9 Teeth on Acct of Dr. Lemoire”

– Lund Washington, Mount Vernon plantation, Account Book dated 1784.

George Washington, slavery and magic collide in this alternate history. While I will never understand the mentality that makes people think slavery is ever an option I enjoyed reading about the strength and character of the nine slaves included in this story. I particularly loved anticipating the impact each particular tooth would have on George.

For the blacksmith understood what masters had chosen to forget: when you make a man or woman a slave you enslave yourself in turn.

You can read this short story online here. I’ll definitely be rereading this story.

Content warnings include suicide attempts.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Court Magician – Sarah Pinsker

Lightspeed Magazine, January 2018

The Court Magician is a 2019 Hugo Awards finalist in the Best Short Story category.

“The Guild is for magicians who feel the need to compete with each other. The Palace trains magicians who feel compelled to compete against themselves.”

This story haunted me when I first read it a few months ago and I’m not sure why I only gave it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ at the time. All day I’ve been bingeing on the finalists in this Hugo Award category and I purposely left this story to last, remembering how much I enjoyed it the first time I read it.

I adore underdogs who set out to achieve whatever they dream of through sheer determination and persistence. I smile with glee when an author writes a story that lulls me into a sense of safety before pulling the rug from under me with a twist that is at once brutal and brilliant. I‘m surprised when an unnamed character finds their way into my heart in only a few short pages. I will always want to read about magic. I love that I enjoyed this story even more the second time I read it.

You can read this short story online here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society – T. Kingfisher

Uncanny Magazine Issue 25: November/December 2018

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society is a 2019 Hugo Awards finalist in the Best Short Story category.

Half a dozen faerie boys, a selkie and a horse are sitting around a fire. They’re trying to figure out why Rose MacGregor didn’t pine for them, instead marrying the blacksmith.

“Are we pining?” asked the green-eyed fae suddenly. “Is this what it’s like when they pine away after us?”

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this short story at all.

Once Upon a Nitpick: The spelling of Rose’s surname kept changing throughout the story. Sometimes it was MacGregor and other times it was McGregor. This has no bearing on my star rating but it really bugged me.

You can read this short story online here.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

STET – Sarah Gailey

Fireside Magazine Issue 60, October 2018

STET is a 2019 Hugo Awards finalist in the Best Short Story category.

This story is told in an unusual and interesting way. It’s a scientific paper with annotations. For me the story came alive more in the annotations, although the footnotes provide sufficient information for you to learn the story behind the story. I tend to gloss over whenever I encounter copious footnotes in any text so that influenced my reading experience here.

I had to force myself to get to the guts of the actual story. I felt the pain and anger in this piece but overall it didn’t work for me. I see journal articles and I automatically think of dry, wordy documents I drudged through to find information for university assignments, so I don’t think this format was ever going to be a winner for me.

You can read this short story online here. I found this version didn’t flow as well for me as the PDF version with handwritten notes, even though they contain the same text.

Content warnings include references to the death of a child.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat – Brooke Bolander

Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat is a 2019 Hugo Awards finalist in the Best Short Story category.

This was a predictable but fun fairytale featuring three raptor sisters, whose names translate into human as Allie, Betty and Ceecee. They are a “hunting pride of matriarchal dromaeosauridae”. The youngest sister, Ceecee, encounters a bumbling Prince and his stead while hunting in the forest and as a result the sisters’ happy lives get more complicated.

I found the Prince to be more a caricature than anything else. I liked the Princess and appreciated her yearning to shed the yoke that had been placed upon her. Although I understood its purpose, I think I would have liked this tale of female empowerment more if the man in the story had a personality that extended beyond his stupidity.

You can read this short story online here.

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Rating: 3 out of 5.

A Witch's Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies – Alix E. Harrow

Apex Magazine Issue 105, February 2018

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies is a 2019 Hugo Awards finalist in the Best Short Story category.

He reached towards the book and the book reached back towards him, because books need to be read quite as much as we need to read them

I first read this short story three months ago and loved it. When I was about to begin my reread I realised that it was written by Alix E. Harrow. I have been fortunate enough to secure an advanced copy of their debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January. While it hasn’t reached the top of my to be read pile yet I’ve had a sneak peek and it definitely looks like my kind of book. After rereading this short story I now can’t wait to read it.

Anyone could see that kid needed to run and keep running until he shed his own skin, until he clawed out of the choking darkness and unfurled his wings, precious and prisming in the light of some other world.

I love magic portals, libraries and witches, so this story hit one of my literary trifectas. Books can be life changing and the right one can even save your life.

This is a story about a librarian who connects readers with books by “divining the unfilled spaces in their souls and filling them with stories and starshine”, a foster child and one of those books.

You can read this short story online here.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide and depression.

Rating: 5 out of 5.