On the stage the colony’s four starmages stand arrayed in a rectangle: Tiger, phoenix, dragon, horse. Each of them clutches in both hands a long metal rod, painted the red of justice. They drown out the thousand murmuring voices by pounding the rods onto the stage floor in an accelerating crescendo. Echoes drill into skulls. The house lights dim; the show is about to begin.
Two masked figures haul a third onto the center of the stage. Traitor is naked except for the ropes that bind her hands in front of her. Once she had a name, but now and forever she will only be known as Traitor. Nine iterations of her family will be thus disgraced, their names wiped from the register and those two characters written in their place. Her skin is blanched funerary white but her face is swollen with the red of beaten flesh. They force her to her knees. The sound of bone against wood lingers.
You look at her face. Its shape is young, its features arranged in despair. This girl could be Officer Ouyang. This girl could be you.
i tend to pass over the novellas when i’m choosing what to read for my weekly tor-short undertaking because i’m usually squeezing ’em in during the few golden hours i have before my saturday workday, and it’s better for me if i can honor my self-imposed commitment and still have time for other obligations before trotting off into the world to earn my keep.
but my pickings were slim, so i took the plunge with this one, and risk was rewarded—i loved this story and i’m grateful to have spent time in its bubble. it’s not even *that* long, as far as novellas go, and yet, content-wise, it feels like i read a whole damn book. it is packed with details, rich and gooey with characters, setting, and the “it’s complicated” relationship between magic and ideologies that scaffolds this imaginary-but-relatable world.
i didn’t even mind the romance.
the writing is absolutely lovely—the delicate intimacy of sexual awakening, the righteous heat of rebellion, the bittersweet nature of absence—it’s highly visual and simultaneously dense and light and i do not know how they managed that feat, but hats off.
i didn’t realize at the time that this was the same author who wrote Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy; a tor shorty i read a few years back, but i’m hooked now, and hoping for more on the horizon.
read it for yourself here: