Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that Ursula Vernon (aka T. Kingfisher) tends to float to the top of my “to be read” pile.

Nettle and Bone, her latest book, is a one-off, but of a different sort than others. It’s not the retelling of an existing fairy tale like Bryony and Roses, The Seventh Bride,or The Raven and the Reindeer. It’s not a coming-of-age story like Minor Mage or A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking. And it isn’t set in the Clockwork universe of her Paladin books.

Oh, and it’s not one of her super-creepy horror novels, although it does have the occasional creepy point.

It’s a new fairy tale, a story of a woman who discovers her pregnant sister is being abused — and decides her sister’s husband has to go. This is complicated by the fact that he’s the prince of the neighboring country and, in multiple ways, significantly more powerful than she is.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, even when it involves doing impossible things. One just needs to collect a hodgepodge of new friends, build a pet, and learn how politics work.

This book has cemented its place on my “favorite books” list.

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) is a creepy as hell retelling of the “Fall of the House of Usher”. I knew it was going to get bad when there were no bodies by the end of chapter 3 because T. Kingfisher’s got a reputation for having someone dead even in her “fluffy romances” and hooooo this didn’t disappoint. Never looking at lungs the same way again. holy hell.

My brain’s just running around now yelling NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.

A must read.

An Equivalent Mass

A black lab with a grey muzzle

Content warning: this story contains depictions of abused animals. (And comeuppance. If depictions of abused animals upset you — that’s ok! They should! — feel free to not-read knowing the bastard gets what’s coming to him.) 

The three animals stepped into the clearing in the woods: a siamese cat with a bit of airs about her, a young pit bull who was a bit too excited to be lost, and an old Labrador retriever. Clearly someone’s beloved pets, all three looked bedraggled and, though not badly injured, certainly unhappy. 

The cat stopped suddenly and sat down, looking at the two dogs as if they had straight up lost their minds. The pit bull balked as well. The log cabin that stood in front of them didn’t look safe. The southern end’s roof had collapsed and a tree grown up in the space. The northern end was leaning dangerously to the left. The porch roof looked scorched by fire. 

The Labrador paused with the others for a moment. The animals exchanged looks. The lab, not convinced by the others’ concerns, stepped forward to lead the way. 

As they approached the house, a brick fell off the chimney and smashed on the ground. The cat jumped up on top of the pit bull and refused to climb back down even after the pittie shook himself.

The animals climbed the rickety stairs onto the porch. They stared at the door.

A middle-aged woman stood on the other side of a crooked brown storm door. “Lost in the woods, huh? Family lives three hundred away, over the mountains? And you want to get home?” 

She stared at them for a moment, then sighed. “Come on in.” She swung the screen door open. 

The lab pawed at the air. 

“No, I’m not a goddess, I’m a witch. I don’t care what the Saint Bernard told you… you’ll understand the difference soon enough.”

Continue reading “An Equivalent Mass”

Anne of West Philly by Ivy Noelle Weir, illustrated by Myisha Haynes

I’m an anne-with-an-e and so it was a requirement of the universe that I’d be reading Anne of Green Gables before I escaped junior high.

Trying to read the original series has multiple hurdles that have only gotten stronger since I was a child. The series was set in rural Prince Edward Island, Canada, in a time before telephones, cars, and refrigerators. (The internet wasn’t even dreamed of.) The books were written in the early 1910s, so more than 100 years of word loss and language migration has taken place. And the story of a young white girl with red hair adopted by two older people who wanted a boy that could take over the farm isn’t exactly as easy to relate to these days as it was even when I was a teen in the 1990s.

But the story’s arc as a coming-of-age tale is certainly still relevant. People (of all ages) still need to know what a good apology looks like, why it can be hard to fit in when you’re different, that parents (and other adults) get things wrong too, and that the kid you think is a jerk might actually be more sincere than he lets on.

I’m thrilled that Anne of West Philly retells the first Anne of Green Gables story, overcoming the language barriers of the original and turning it into a graphic novel for all ages.

Some of the changes to be aware of:

  • Anne is a foster child, not a straight-up adoption as she was in the original. (These days you don’t get to just send an orphan you have legally adopted back if you don’t like them, thank God.)
  • Anne’s a Black girl with natural red hair.
  • Anne and her friends are on Instagram, they have cell phones, they are in a  robotics club, they use school busses, they’re in our society.
  • The story takes place in West Philadelphia instead of a farm in Canada, which has surprisingly very little impact on the primary plot points.
  • (Spoiler) Near the end of the book we learn that not only is Gilbert not Anne’s primary love interest, she’s crushing on a girl. (The story ends before we see whether Anne wins the heart of the friend she’s interested in.)

In other words, it’s the kind of story that a kid today could understand without having to know anything about rural living, Canadian geography, or English as spoken 120 years ago. A timeless story that’s reset to a time that makes it easier to enjoy.

Definitely worth reading, and I just gifted it to a teen I know.

Ablution: A new short story on Abyss & Apex

Tonight, I stare into the fog and think of the men I prepared for war today, feeling nothing for their deaths. The young ones spoke only of glory of battle. The old ones saw no glory in killing, just duty. They all believe in a better life, a vision that I no longer share. I strapped both kinds of men on their steeds, buckled the leather harnesses that made the knights one with my dragons. I wished them honor, but saved my prayers for the dragons.

In the April 2021 issue of Abyss & Apex you will find Ablution, a short story I wrote a few years ago and finally found a home.