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Short Stories 365/76 | N.S. Beranek

“Thimbleriggery and Fledglings” by Steve Berman from Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers (Lethe Press, 2014).

As a child I encountered several bad examples of the fantasy genre. Consequently, I have trust issues concerning it, and a knee-jerk bad reaction to being told something is possible because “it’s magic”. Of course, I’ve read enough work by this author to know he’s not going to engage in lazy storytelling. He always clearly outlines the parameters of his worlds and then adheres to those self-imposed limits.

This is a fun read. It involves a girl trying to find her way through a most unusual upbringing. Or maybe not so unusual – like many fathers, hers has clear ideas for her future and he’s working like crazy to see his vision fulfilled. It just happens that he’s a sorcerer, wielding an avian-based magic. Yes, you read that correctly. His magic—and therefore this entire story—involves birds. It’s chock-full of eggs, nests, quills and cages.

Which is interesting and educational, and certainly different, but the real story revolves around the sorcerer’s daughter, Odile, and the way in which her dreams for her future differ from his. They are farthest apart on the issue of who she will marry. They live within a kingdom, and her father has gone to great pains to secure her engagement to the prince. The only trouble is, Odile has fallen for one of the poor souls he’s holding captive.

Wait, did I mention he turns people into birds? No? Well, he does, either because they cross him or because he can use the hostages as bargaining chips when making deals with the king.

There’s plenty here to keep you riveted. A ticking clock in the form of a looming engagement party; interaction between starry-eyed Odile and Elster, the girl tasked with creating the gown the sorcerer’s daughter will wear to the party; and plenty of tension as we see the headstrong teenaged heroine come into her own as far as wielding magic goes. Last but not least, there’s the small matter of first crushes, and the sad fact that they tend to be more about who the smitten wants to be in love with than they are about seeing the object of one’s affection clearly.