The Nightingale calculated. It had never had cause to be fitted with the knowledge of where ghosts come from. They infested the city in much the way of the seasonal senates of ash-pigeons and the sub-kingdom of rats, but now all the nests and roosts were in disarray. The city was rearranging itself, and who knew what would pour into its new emptinesses, as a singer stretches the air to let the listener’s heart fall in.
i could have sworn i’d read this one before, and i wasted a bunch of time looking for proof of this across my various book-recording thingies, convinced that goodreads had eaten another of my reviews, but no luck. so, either 1) i have been issued a new brain while i slumbered one night, full of all-new informations, 2) i have read a similarly-themed tor short, or 3) i read the beginning of this one in the past and gave up.
i don’t usually do 3), but it’s possible, because as much as i wanted to like this one, i really struggled with it, and i can see myself in the past with only a limited time to read my weekly tor short before having to focus on other things and getting frustrated by having to stop and reread paragraphs a few times to figure out where i was and if i’d missed something before giving up and moving on to another one.
i can also see 1) because my brain is crap lately and i need to blame something…
i do not think this is a story branching off of a series or anything, but it feels like it is because of the number of presuppositions upon the reader that they will know what any of these terms/events being referenced are. the writing is undeniably lovely and evocative; fingerstairs and cobbleskulls and all that, but the prose is overpacked, which is something i love when i get it, but that holds me back when i don’t.
this is how the story opens:
Once, before the great Empire of Else enveloped the land between the red mountains and the quiet sea, the city-state of Owl Abbas was a mere bird-haunted forest temple. But protected by treaties, suffocated by safety and benevolent neglect, it had swollen and grown in upon itself, roiling and fomenting, so slowly that only (perhaps) a few dust-dry wraiths of abbots hanging motionless in enclosed footings of the Palace Aster would have marked the change from one century to another.
The gains and losses of its citizenry had been gradual. Its resentments and injustices oozed like moisture down the dank wall of a forgotten reservoir, unremarked by either the clustered, crushing commonality or the Little Emperor, cloyed and gorged in his great gilt chambers. Drip, drip, until the dark water was high against its bowed, ill-repaired walls. Until it lapped at the foundations of palace and hovel alike.
In all Owl Abbas, before it burned (after the Falling but before the Cartographer’s War and the Recurrence of Owls), there were among its many windows only two that need concern us.
maybe it’s just down to me trying to read this too early in the morning, pre-coffee, pre-shower, when i have too much anxiety and stress in my realworld insisting on distracting me from reading, preventing me from the full reader-engagement necessary to dive into a chunky-word-stew, but i had to stop and reread that a number of times. it’s not that the words themselves are difficult or unfamiliar, but it’s a lot to take in. and some of it is the brain-limitation i seem to have retained despite the dubious upgrade of 1) – the bombardment of Capital-Letter-Fantasy-Things: The Empire of Else, Owl Abbas, Palace Aster, the Little Emperor, the Falling, the Cartographer’s War, the Recurrence of Owls – and on and on through the story. it’s too much to hit me with right out of the gate if you’re not going to define all your terms. it feels like being word-bullied. i need to be eased gently into a world.
maybe if my brain/life ever improve, i will give it a second go. there are some heart-stoppingly pretty neologisms and phrases within the story, but i felt a little claustrophobic for most of it.
short review for a short story!
read it for yourself here: