“And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead” (capitalization sic), by Brooke Bolander
Appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, February 2015
I was of two minds about this story from pretty much the first paragraph. Rhye is an archetypical street-hardened badass with a heart of gold. It’s refreshing to see a female character in that role, and Rhye’s point of view voice is rough and bold and inventively vulgar. (A line I sort of wish I’d come up with: “Down the river and through the woods and if the Big Bad Wolf jumps out, you give him a lead tampon in his pisshole before he can say hey baby, what’s shakin’.” Hard-boiled pulp narration from a point of view that isn’t 100% male, heterosexual, and cisgender—what a world of possibilities!)
On the other hand, Rhye fits the archetype so neatly that the story holds few surprises. She’s forced to acknowledge her love for her mild-mannered partner. She risks everything to protect him. She even has to confront a dark mirror version of herself, who is as heartless as the real Rhye only pretends to be. I feel like I should find this compelling than I do. Maybe I haven’t spent enough time with Rhye’s hardened exterior to appreciate the softness underneath? It doesn’t help that the rest of the plot is also fairly predictable (to me, and not to the characters, even though they’re a sharp bunch).
I don’t know what the title means, but it sounds really cool.
Unrelated: I think I’m going to have to break down and accept that novelettes are a thing. I’ve been drawing this short story/novella line, and it just doesn’t work all that well.