This short fiction collection contains some of Naomi Kritzer’s short stories from 2011 or before. Unfortunately, I think I prefer her more recent short fiction. That said, I enjoyed seeing her progress as an author.
A lot of the stories in the collection involve religion in some way, a theme she also explored in her lesbian YA fantasy novel Fires of the Faithful. This isn’t to say that the stories are didactic or preachy — they never are. Instead, they just sort of explore issues of faith and religion. The stories vary from a narrator who’s a Catholic priest to a narrator who’s a modern day pagan. One story, “The Manual,” is a script that re-imagines God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as a software engineer, manual writer, and human resources representative. In the titular story, “Gift of the Winter King,” a Christian missionary comes to a culture in the far north (is this after some apocalyptic event?) who worship the Winter King, a god of winter. The narrator is a girl of this culture who gets the missionary to teach her how to read and write. “Brother Mac, You Are Healed” is a very short story (flash fiction?) about a girl who discovers she can faith heal computers. It may have been one of my favorite of the collection — that concept is just wonderful!
If I had to chose one favorite story, I’d go with “St. Ailbe’s Hall,” which you can also read on Strange Horizon. This story posits a near future where genetic engineering has made genetically modified dogs common. More intelligent than regular dogs, these creatures preform various menial jobs from nannies to street sweepers. However, they don’t have any more rights than animals. Thus, when a dog wishes to join the Catholic church, it causes a huge fuss.
One of the other best stories of the collection is “In the Witch’s Garden,” a retelling of “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson. It’s set in a dystopic future and follows a witch who adopts a little girl who leaves home looking for her friend. I enjoyed the setting a lot (the settlements of scientists who wear all white were particularly interesting) and would actually be interested in reading more stories set there. There were also a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming.
Three stories in the collection connect in some way to Fires of the Faithful. “Magefire” is the short story that turned into the novel. While I’m glad she decided to expand it, I think it works relatively well on its own. “Masks” follows the backstory of a minor character from the book (the protagonist’s music teach). He’s a gay man living secretly in a homophobic culture, and he’s finding out that his lover has some dark secrets. “Kin” takes place in the same world, although I didn’t recognize any of the characters. The protagonist is a mage who adopts a baby, even though she’s on the front lines of a war.
Other stories include “The Price,” a strange little tale about a murderer who can’t remember who she murdered; “Kitchen Magic, With Recipes,” the story of a lesbian witch trying to get her daughter back (the recipes she bakes as spells are included), and “Darknight,” which was really not very good. To be fair, it was written when Kritzer was a teenager. Hey, it shows how much she’s improved since then! And most of my problems with the story are noted by Kritzer herself in the afterwords.
While this collection wasn’t bad, I still feel like her best stories aren’t a part of this collection. If you’re looking to try out her short fiction, I’d suggest starting with “Cat Pictures Please,” the story of an AI who loves looking at cat pictures on the internet.
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 493 KB
- Print Length: 195 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B004WPPA7C
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Customer Reviews: 10 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #466,979 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)