Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Monstrous Embrace

Short Story by Rachel Swirsky
Read for PodCastle by Elizabeth Green Musselman

The Anthropomorphic Personification of Ugliness wants to marry a prince who used to be ugly but isn't anymore. And also save the kingdom and maybe defeat a greater evil. Overwritten, second person future-tense used much less effectively here than in A Memory of Wind. It was neat in that story, but the novelty alone doesn't do anything for me. It seemed appropriate and useful to the story there more than it does here. I worry that Swirsky may fall into this as a characteristic style, which could undercut my enjoyment of her in general. Not that it is always bad, but it has a time and a place.

The concept of Ugliness as a character is a weird one. On the one hand, I don't think I've ever seen it before. On the other hand, this means that everything in the world is categorized by whether it is ugly or not. If you like swamps or prefer rock over grass or a million other ways where beauty can be subjective, it breaks some weird holes in the premise. Enough that it didn't make enough sense and sort of bothered me.

While it is interesting that magic is derived from experiences, I'm not clear why the king matters to the magic system here. Swirsky is implying an extremely powerful divine right to rule without explanation for said power. It also seems weirdly inconsistent about how powerful Ugliness actually is. And why, with an eternal, infinite concept, is this the story where she chooses to make a stand? Because this king was ugly once? There are a lot of ugly people, and I'm sure beautiful witches aren't unique in the entirety of time either. So I don't get why this is so one-time-special.

Swirsky wants to say some nice things about judging based on appearance and all that, but these observations are old hat and she undermines herself with the description of Ugliness anyway, and then gets a bit heavy-handed with the theme anyway. On top of that, nothing makes much logical sense. Finally, the writing seems over the top in parts, and quite literally put me to sleep. Overcomplicated backstory for everyone reveals a complex world, with elves, but not enough to save the story. I do like the bird though.

2 beautiful marshlands out of 5.

Originally Published in Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy

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