Lullaby for a Lost World by Aliette de Bodard

Upfront, this story is very gothic and puts me right into the mindset of The House of Usher. There’s dark magic at play, people who are isolating themselves from society, an innocent victim.  Though unlike that particular Poe story, the victim at some point decides it will no longer be one.   A terrible sadness permeates this entire story because the victim here is a young child.  Only the darkest of individuals can feel nothing when a horrid event strikes the most innocent among us.

And believe me this child has something horrific done to her in order to maintain the safety of a family that seems pretty reprehensible. I feel like the “master” in this story serves as a symbol for what the entire household is like.  He’s a terrible man who’s built a wall of justification around himself to keep doing what he does.  His good intentions have created a pseudo-Hell for all of those residing in this household.

My one minor gripe with this story is that the child didn’t read like a child. And that makes me wonder if maybe she wasn’t a child at all and I missed something though the doll clutching certainly made me assume child.  But this narration felt like a very intelligent, capable adult.  I tried to rationalize it out as maybe the child’s spirit growing in maturity, but nothing in the story really indicated that either.  But honestly, it’s a small thing I can get over when matched up against the beauty of the prose.

A Cup of Salt Tears by Isabel Yap

This story is just thick with the idea of sacrifice. What would you give for the person you love?  Who would you traverse with?  Literature is full of stories of people giving up something consequential to save someone they love.  One could probably argue that to be one of the prime plots of all fiction.  Much like the Moon in poetry, it’s a topic often touched upon. But this story handles this well-treaded ground in beautiful, haunting fashion.

Makino’s depiction of grief is so well-done and raw. I think too often we like to think of grief as this burst of emotional energy that just keeps on firing off rounds until it’s exhausted itself.  But in this story, grief is static.  It lives Makino trapped in this sort of perpetual, glacial sadness. And for my money, that seems to be a more succinct expression of the emotion, especially when considering the circumstances of her husband.

I also like that the author avoids making the husband this really attractive guy. That would have felt too much like a poem.  Instead, we get a pretty ordinary guy who through his *gasp* personality and loving spirit manages to get this gorgeous woman to fall in love with him.

The Kappa is a thing of pure sensory in this story. Every time he comes on the page, the author just drowns you in these ideas you can touch, taste and feel.  I swear after reading the story, I can know what the exact texture of this creature is like.   Without that degree of focus on making you sense Makino’s movements against the supernatural entity, I don’t think it would have been half as haunting. The author knew exactly where to spend her literary coins in this story and thus knocks it out of the park.

This story lingered after I was finished and I have a feeling it will linger much like the Kappa’s love for a long time.