Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Red Bark and Ambergris, by Kate Marshall

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(High Fantasy) Sarai’s talent lies in scents, but she pursues poisons to get revenge on the queen who imprisoned her on this island. (6,988 words; Time: 23m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Bittersweet and Powerful

"," by (edited by Scott H. Andrews), appeared in issue 232, published on .

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

Pro: This is Sarai’s coming-of-age story. She ultimately accepts that her talents are not what she wishes they were, and she decides to make the best of the ones she has. She accepts that she can’t go home again and decides to be content with her memories—augmented by her own scent talent.

Jared wants her to be the master he knows she can be, but he also wants her to be his surrogate daughter. “It would help no one, least of all your kin,” he says, and we’re told “she thought he hid himself within the echo of that last word.” Her death would hurt him far more than that of any other pupil.

Nissa wants her revenge on her sister, for without her stories, Sarai would never have had what she needed to do that job. Nissa too gets her wish.

The account of Sarai's increasingly dangerous effort to master the different poisons is fascinating and suspenseful.

Best of all, Sarai doesn’t end up with blood on her hands. All she did was construct a scent that brought out the evil that was already inside the queen—an evil that the queen herself couldn’t live with when she was forced to face it.

Con: The moment when Sarai changes her mind is a little weak. She’d been so determined up to that point, it was a little hard to believe she gave up.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I didn't find the decision weak at all. Quite the opposite. Not only is scent making her talent, it's really her passion when she's not looking down on it as inferior to poison taming. Embracing her calling has empowered her and freed her in a way. Whereas poison taming is literally self destruction.

    1. Oh, it's very sensible. She definitely made the right decision. Maybe I just needed a bit more evidence that she was having second thoughts before that point.