BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet curates tales that are never what you expect and issue #32 only solidifies the magazines reputation with a wide selection. From the fantastic and chilling to the mysterious and futuristic, you’re taken on a tour through strange and vivid lands.
PROS: Stylistically, all the stories are satisfactory. The writers published here know how to use language and a great many also have conceived worlds that are highly imaginative and very well textured.
CONS: Since you’re getting a really mixed bag, chances are higher that you won’t be able to reconcile with some stories. I certainly didn’t enjoy every story.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s vital to read that which is different and see the multiple perspectives in genre, because the soil is rich for experimentations and yields enjoyable results, even if there are a few misses. Those are risks with an eclectic selection.
I admit I haven’t read an issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, albeit having heard it is a must for readers who appreciate short fiction that doesn’t necessarily play to established conventions in fantasy, science fiction and all that’s in between the spectrum. People haven’t lied to me, thankfully, because none of the eight short stories featured in issue #32 released in June (yes, I’m a bit overdue with this review) seek to burn fast and bright or draw their power from the now all-familiar and anticipated high tension, high drama or breakneck pacing.
No, their embrace is slow, careful and deliberate. These stories draw their power from the quietness of their writers’ language. They are meant to be drawn out during reading, savored and once you finish each, sit with the story in silence before you start the next. Reading Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet calls for a different mode of reading altogether, where you as the reader have to make the conscious decision to get lost in the stories, no matter how short they are, and forego any rushing.
A perfect example is “Marrying the Sea” by Kodiak Julian, which is a very tender story of remembrance that successfully charts the whole lives of four witches in just two pages and seamlessly intertwines the history of their coven right up to its inception in early childhood. Julian’s language is clear, comforting and satisfying in the same way most simple pleasures are. In a sense, “Marrying the Sea” is more akin to listening to your grandmother speak about her life with the power that comes from reliving it in the space between each word and then finding home, warmth and belonging for yourself.
Another story in a similar fashion is “The Square of Mirrors” by Dylan Horrocks, which I find to be in conversation with K.J. Parker’s excellent short fiction in his volume “Academic Exercises”, but where Parker offers well-plotted stories with sound structures and satisfactory pay-offs in a magical life, “The Squares of Mirrors” leaves you to walk the streets of this city with mirrored squares, bizarre silent processions and abandoned silent cathedrals that serve as hostels for when you get lost and you will be. The tease of a story, one without a resolution of any real value for the narrator, is only a pretext to explore the scenery.
The same strength in worldbuilding is displayed in “The Blood Carousel” by Alyc Helmes – perhaps my favorite story from this issue and one of the rare works of fiction where children act as real children would. Hazel and Barnabas perfectly embody the typical child loudness in their actions and when they talk. Helmes also perfectly captures the remorseless childhood cruelty and vulnerability as Hazel agrees to do everything she can to resurrect her parents, even if that means extorting a talking vixen to help her. This leads her to the most horrifying and twisted version of a carnival park complete with a gate made from antlers and a haunted carousel.
Being as different as they are, the stories here don’t really allow to be tethered together in a thematic line as they occupy altogether different places on the speculative spectrum. Readers go from the skillful rendition of historical England and wordsmithing in “The Beast Unknown to Heraldry” by Henry Wessels, whose main fault is its rather abrupt end that was telegraphed well in the beginning, to the rather bleak and depressing near-future of “Everything is Haunted” by Joe M. McDermott that poses some rather uncomfortable ethical questions about genetic sciences.
Then we travel back in time to a very present-day Los Angeles in “The Shadow You Cast is Me” by Henry Lien, which I found intriguing and perplexing since I can’t identify where exactly the speculative element resides. It’s strange in its exploration of reality’s firmness in the life of a man with a failing marriage and really, I don’t know what to make of it. I feel as though I’m left with some sort of cypher waiting to be solved. Even if there’s no hidden meaning in the miniature moments of strangeness and unreality rooted in upper-class domesticity, the story stayed with me for a time after reading.
Curiously, the follow-up, “Auburn” by Joanna Ruocco, mirrors Lien’s story in the way it portrays the unhappy familial life of Lady Abergavenny to Lord Abergavenny – explorer and man of science, who has no time for his wife and whose only attachment is to her Auburn hair. Lady Abergavenny follows her husband’s lead and receives no intimacy. It’s only after she has had enough with the disproportion of power in their marriage does she unveil why the lord ever married her and the root of his preoccupation with her hair. Although not the most exceptional story, I found it quite intriguing and charming in its oddness.
The only short story I didn’t finish was “Sun Circles” by Jade Sylvan and a lot has to do with it being on the harder side of science fiction, which I don’t find much enjoyment in and it speaks more about me as a reader than the writing. From what I did read, I do believe science fiction lovers will enjoy it. I leave that for them to decide.
On that note, I’ll conclude my review with saying that reading Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet was a most strange experience in the most positive connotations of the word. I love my speculative fiction in as many nuances and permutations as possible and I believe Lady Churchill knows how to make that cup of tea.