Steady on Her Feet, by K.J. Kabza
Starts a little slow; the presentation of the placard would have been better a little farther down, once we’d already had a taste of Kabza’s delightful world to bite into. Still, it picks up slowly over a few paragraphs, and then suddenly you’re off and running, fully immersed in a genuinely (darkly) entertaining adventure. Like being chased down alleyways at night, when you only think you know where you’re going, the story moves along through the expected twists and turns, until it curves too sharply into its finale. The end makes a sort of sense, but the character reveals aren’t well-established, and require a lot of disbelief to keep you from tossing the whole thing out when the kind and/or stupid suddenly become gleefully malevolent. Too bad, because until then, the story was quite good, but it’s clear that Kabza had an end in mind when writing, and was going to get there regardless of whether or not the rest of the story supported it.
A Screech of Gulls, by Alec Helms
The story begins with the listing and naming of things, and in the explanation of those names, the story unfolds. This is a lovely, languid, way to infodump, and I’m always glad to see it done well. It carries on with details and objects, setting the scene by telling you about the things in it as they come up, instead of all at once. This is a worldbuilding sort of fantastic reality, the kind that clearly takes place somewhere and somewhen else, but Helms never overwhelms with useless prose. There are new words in the dialogue that make sense because of context, rather than relying on an explanation, and that shows Helms thinks we’re smart enough to understand — a respect I always appreciate in an author. In the end, the story is so simple, but it’s beautifully told, with the weight of realism and solid emotional impact. Worth reading even if you’re not a fan of “fantasy” because this one isn’t, really (there’s little to no magic, it’s just not a story from our world) but it is extremely well-written.