Straatman’s (A Fallible Goddess and the Enduring Sorrow, 2016, etc.) fantasy novella explores the unflagging bond between two women, one of whom is immortal.
Lorio is a beautiful and loquacious former queen, and Issisdris is a scarred, taciturn warrior. Together, they’ve journeyed through the Antiquated World for 30 years, battling misogyny and seeking no other company but each other. Lorio, of the wandering Lamia tribe, died during the Emerald Enchantress War only to be resurrected by Myrhia, Mother of Iniquity. This rendered Lorio immortal and the subject of legends, which she prefers to disregard. Issidris grew up on the island of Ciprite, where her father and brothers raped and beat her as a child. She grew up into a life of crime, eventually becoming a professional assassin. She ran afoul of Lorio on the road to Dizar Kor, capital of the nation of Fairmarch. Initially, the two hated each other and sparred ruthlessly. Then, after Issidris suffered a personal tragedy, Lorio asked the smaller woman to be her companion and “conscience.” She agreed, and the pair began traveling the nations of Emercia, Anangrast, and elsewhere, often finding and helping women and children in brutal subjugation. Now, however, Issidris is considering retirement; how will Lorio react? In this short, dark piece, Straatman attempts to distill all that’s precious between the two main characters by offering their lengthy histories. His dialogue can be a bit wry, as when Issidris says to Lorio, “You may be a queen and an immortal, but I sincerely doubt that either can survive without a head.” In general, however, the prose is overly wordy, which sometimes suffocates the drama: “Beneath the exceptionally beautiful fall sky, Issidris was on her hands and knees....Lorio's acute visual acuity registered the eviscerating details of Issidris’ dire situation.” Epic-fantasy fans will likely take the Antiquated World’s misery in stride, but more casual readers might find the bleak tone gratuitous. Laudably, however, Straatman’s characters desire a world where men and women are equal, which adds power to an elegant finale.
A stripped-down fantasy that’s as verbose as it is heartfelt.