Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Bourbon Penn, and Conjunctions

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 11/20
Bourbon Penn 11/20
Conjunctions Spring ’20

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet has been one of my favorite magazines for a long time, always publishing work unlike anything you’ll read else­where. The November issue is largely given over to a novella from Sarah Langan, “You Have the Prettiest Mask“. It’s either a timely story or a weirdly untimely story! It’s told by Cathy Lerner, a 12-year-old girl attending an exclusive school, who opens the story by spurning her uncool long-time friend to join a clique of mean girls; while her parents’ marriage seems to be disintegrating. So far, so traditional YA! But it’s set in the aftermath of the “Y-plague,” an Ebola-like disease that af­fects only males, and that is transmitted only by sexually mature females. A year ago that would have seemed material for a commentary on human sexual dynamics, perhaps, especially as perceived by a just pre-pubescent girl with a younger brother and with parents on the outs. But in 2020 the no­tion of a worldwide pandemic – and one in which carriers of the disease are required to wear masks – has an entirely different connotation! I honestly don’t know how to take the story. There are times when a reader brings as much to a story as a writer, and not necessarily because the writer intended it – so I have a notion that I may not have read the story Sarah Langan intended. That said, it’s an intriguing story, as Cathy and her new friends begin to resist the idea that they will be required to wear masks once they turn 13 – so they are anti-maskers! – and as Cathy’s various relationships – with her friends, her parents, her other classmates – begin to fray. It’s an odd piece, sometimes horrific, sometimes traditional YA, and in the end striking and moving.

This issue also has a fine piece from Stewart Moore, “Madeline’s Wings“, about a woman who makes wings for people, who is hired by a strange old man to make wings for him. She soon realizes that this man believes he’s a dragon – and another potential customer seems to believe she’s a dhampir. Will making them wings only entice these people into dangerously leaning into their obsessions? How does that affect Madeline, whose dead lover also believed she could really fly? And what if these people are not crazy? Another unexpectedly charming piece is “Bright and Shabby Buses“, by Jack Larsen, which tells of two different sorts of buses, one of which is very inexpensive if you enter an empty bus, but incredibly dear for a full bus; and another which is prohibitively expensive for the first boarder, but much cheaper once full – and each have different destinations. Nice work.

The November issue of the dependably weird Bour­bon Penn closes with a decidedly and effectively weird story from Emily C. Skaftun, “Bristle“, in which Luka becomes convinced that her tooth­brush and her boyfriend’s toothbrush are somehow reflecting their relationship, as she struggles with an unplanned pregnancy and her joblessness. The story gets stranger and stranger as Luka’s experiments with the toothbrushes go sadly awry.

Finally, I should mention, somewhat belatedly, the Spring issue of Conjunctions, called Grendel’s Kin: The Monsters Issue, so featuring stories about mon­sters. My favorite story was “The Moon Fairy” by Sofia Samatar, a truly creepy story in which the tiny title creature comes to stay with Sylvie and charms her (and to a degree, her family) until things turn much darker. This story manages, in an original way, to read like the crueler of the old fairy stories.

Recommended Stories

“You Have the Prettiest Mask”, Sarah Langan (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 11/20)
“Bright and Shabby Buses”, Jack Larsen (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 11/20)
“The Moon Fairy”, Sofia Samatar (Conjunctions Spring ’20)
“Bristle”, Emily C. Skaftun (Bourbon Penn 11/20)

Rich Horton works for a major aerospace company in St. Louis MO. He has published over a dozen anthologies, including the yearly series The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy from Prime Books, and he is the Reprint Editor for Lightspeed Magazine. He contributes articles and reviews on SF and SF history to numerous publications.

This review and more like it in the January 2021 issue of Locus.

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