Thursday, November 3, 2016

Seasons of Glass and Iron, by Amal El-Mohtar

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(Fairy Tale) Tabitha has been walking a long time, trying to wear out seven pairs of iron shoes; Amira has been sitting alone on a glass hill that suitors try to climb. (5,617 words; Time: 18m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Recommended
Recommended By: JStrahan Nebula

Reprinted in Uncanny Magazine issue 13.

"," by (edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe), appeared in (RSR review), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: This story subverts two different fairy tales to excellent effect.

There are several versions of the story of the woman who must wear out seven (or some other number) of iron shoes before she can rescue her prince, but this is probably closest to The Enchanted Pig. Those stories all seem to have a hidden message that long years of hard, painful work will eventually pay off, and the husband will become a prince. In this story, Tabitha's actual husband quit loving her and set her this task. She's foolishly trying to achieve it, although, as Amira implies when she observes that at the half-way point, Tabitha should have started working her way back home, it's pretty clear that Tabitha doesn't really expect it to work.

In The Princess on the Glass Hill, the hero has to use magic equipment to climb the hill and claim the three apples. Here, the story seems to imply that even a lowly man can win a princess through great feats, although it also seems to have the implication that he conquers her by overcoming her resistance. Amira, however, doesn't want a man at all, so hers is a spell that no man is ever supposed to overcome.

Tabitha is an irresistible force who meets an immovable object, Amira. They cease to be who they were and become a couple--something entirely new.

Beyond the symbolism, we come to like both characters and wish them well. On a minor note, Tabitha's attempts to conduct scientific experiments on the apples are amusing.

Con: Given the world they live in, we don't hold out a lot of hope for them.

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I think this is about a 4-5 Star rating myself.

    This was the first story I read in this collection and I was rather amazed at how revisionist it was.

    However, I did like it a lot, and it is going on my Hugo ballot in the Short Story category.

    There are enough fairy tales about where the girl has to rescue the boy or boys. This is about women helping out other women.

    1. This one was a close call for me too. It just struck me that they're heading off for a life together that will almost certainly involve persecution and hardship. Of course, compared to a life walking around in iron shoes or sitting on top of a glass hill, maybe they won't even notice. :-)

  2. If I had read this before Hugo nominations ended, it would definitely have been on my ballot. I'm a sucker for fairytale retellings, but I wasn't previously familiar with these two. (Tabitha's situation reminded me of "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" though.) I thought the two stories came together really well. And, of course, I loved how they saved each other.