Here we go, folks. Review number one of the World Fantasy Award nominees for short fiction. See the full list here.
In Rachael K. Jone’s short story “The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me”, readers are invited into a fascinating world where earthbound and skybound beings worship each other without much understanding of the other’s reality. We see the world from the perspective of a young, earthbound holy woman-in-training. There’s a whole lot of sin among the earthbound, or at least that’s what they believe about themselves, for our narrator is describes her training as primarily composed of exercises in self denial and suffering.
The duality of this world is beautifully described in this fantasy that feels like a sketch for a much longer story. Women “step” up and down in the air. The earthbound starve themselves to rise and the skybound eat to fall. But the story’s dualistic vision is not sharpened over the course of the story. The nature of each group of beings is unclear in the beginning and only becomes more ambiguous as the story rolls along. This provides both tension and relief in the story as well as insight on the idea that we may be better off without the labels angel and demon.
Even Jone’s style reflects movement from taxonomic exposition by our narrator in the beginning to her much richer, conflicted and ambiguous reflections in the end. Right and wrong, love and duty merge. I was a bit confused when the story narration shifted timelines between the narrator’s recent past to her expository descriptions of the realm of the skybound beings, which the fallen being must have shared with her. It still felt clumsy to me on the second reading, but I admire the writer for taking the risk. She was also bold enough to chance shifting the narrator’s voice over the course of the story, revealing the narrator’s inner change from holding a dutybound, black and white perspective, to one confused by the beauty and pain of love. That aspect of the writing worked well.
The motivations of the narrator were a bit shaky in the beginning, but they did become clearer. My confusion about motivation clouded my appreciation for the climactic scene in the first reading, but, on the second round, I felt it was one of the most beautiful descriptions of love’s balance between flying and falling I’ve ever seen.
Read this story. It was the only World Fantasy Award nominee for short fiction not available online, but now it is. “The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me” is published in Clockwork Phoenix 5 (also nominated in the anthology category for World Fantasy Award) and edited by Mike Allen. Looks like even more good reading there that I’ll have to comment on later.
Thumbs up and 4.75 stars out of 5.