Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Thirty-Three Wicked Daughters, by Kelly Barnhill

★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended

(Fairy Tale) The old king’s 33 daughters just want to make the kingdom a better place, so why do all the nobles, priests, and guilds call them evil? (10,631 words; Time: 35m)

Recommended By: πŸ‘STomaino+1 (Q&A)

"Thirty-Three Wicked Daughters," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 05-06|19, published on by .

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

Review: 2019.281 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: This retelling of the founding of England (aka “Albion”) tells the tale of Albia and her sisters in a completely different way. In this tale, the only people who call them wicked are the men whose power they threaten, and rather than murdering their innocent husbands, they’re trapped into “marriages” they never consented to.

The Barons are the real villains of this piece, and once the sisters have disposed of them, they head off to the land of the Giants, which they rename Albion.

Con: The story has a very strong radical feminist/Marxist message, which wouldn’t be fatal—this is a fairy tale, and fairy tales can be entertaining even when they carry much more distasteful messages—except that this message gets hammered in in almost every paragraph. And the message amounts to 1) men are all stupid and almost all evil 2) Women are smart and compassionate 3) anyone with money is evil 4) the working class (which didn’t even exist in medieval times, but never mind) are noble and selfless 5) We can achieve utopia if we just kill enough people. There’s very little story attached; the message is almost all there is.

Ironically, this makes dimwitted King Diodicias the real hero of the piece because, despite his handicaps, he rises to the occasion and on his own initiative, uses his pigeons to save the day. It also makes the Barons’ capture of the daughters impossible to believe, because the Barons are so stupid, the daughters are so smart, and the common people are so noble that there’s no way they’d have even come up with such a plan, much less been able to execute it in secrecy.

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I actually quite liked it. I was unaware of the original tale, and it was a bit heavy-handed with the preachiness. However, I enjoyed the read. I was entertained and that is why I buy the magazine.

    1. It's a question of things that break suspension of disbelief. Without suspension of disbelief, it's not possible to enjoy a story, and something that breaks suspension of disbelief too many times will ruin a story.

      For me, an overt message--even one I agree with--breaks suspension of disbelief, so I tend to pan anything that has too much of that. A subtle, background message is fine, of course. Likewise, bad science--particularly when unnecessary to the plot--ruins a story for me.

      However, different people are sensitive to different things. That's why it's good we have a number of reviewers around. :-)

      So what about this story make it so appealing to you?

  2. This story has since made it into Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020. Well deserved. As a fairytale-style story, it isn't aiming for realism; it's aiming for stylisation and it accomplishes this remarkably well. It's clever, funny, relevant, and lampoons the kind of people who wouldn't like it within the text itself. I absolutely loved it.