Dang Good Stories #3

This week, two stories about sadness because I’m in a melancholy mood today.

“A Flock of Grief” by Kat Howard (Lightspeed November 2014)

This story lingered in my TBR list for far too long because for awhile it seemed like every other story out there was about birds as a metaphor, and I kept clicking on it and going eh, birds again. But this story uses birds in a way I haven’t seen before. This is a world where birds appear after a death to burden the bereaved, literal specters of grief. In high society, men and women hire professional mourners to host their birds. That is, until the protagonist’s husband (who she didn’t love and didn’t want) dies and her complicated grief breaks the delicate system.

My favorite stories have multiple layers of meaning, and this one is no exception. On the surface it’s an interesting world with a neatly built economy of grief, but at deeper levels it’s also about the ways the rich use the poor, the constraints on women in this Victorian-esque society, and the social acceptability of public mourning.

“City of Salt” by Arkady Martine (Strange Horizons March 16th, 2015)

I love short stories that are concerned with the past. Usually we see only the immediate present, because of the limitations of length, but stories that address how the past haunts the present can work wonders.

“City of Salt” is all about aftermath. Ammar returns to the city he fled years ago, to see what became of his friend Sogcha who remained inside when the king they both loved used dark magic to try to win a war. The city is a dead place now, the ground entirely salt, and Sogcha has become a part of it.

This is a story not about regret, exactly, but about how past choices shape the future irreversibly. Ammar and Sogcha both made the only choices they could, neither right nor wrong, and now they can’t quite forgive each other. It’s also a story about death, and how grief endures. The dead are everywhere here–the undead army that the king Nilaq tried to raise, the illusions of the dead that Sogcha creates to keep Ammar away, the ever-haunting memory of Nilaq himself, the bodies that Ammar takes from the city for burial. I’ve reread this story several times, and each time I discover a new moment to savor in it.


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