Beth Bernobich – River of Souls
You can read it on Tor.com:
This short fantasy story is a love story and it is sad. It talks about rebirth and the love that transcends death. It talks about dreams overlapping with reality. It talks about the courage to be true to oneself. “Cowardly poets do not thrive,” said one of the characters, and the line could serve as the epigraph to this story.
It might seem like too many heavy topics for one short story, but the author interweaves them with amazing skills. There is no sentimentality there, no false mush. The narrative is rather dry. All the same, I cried as I read it. There is hope for the future too but it’s beyond the scope of this story. The hero’s future starts, when the story ends.
I won’t give a summary of the plot here, don’t want to spoil your pleasure of reading it for yourself. I have to say though that the technique of the story surprised me. Most of it is not scenes, as all the writing textbooks and teachers say a story should be. Most of this story is telling, not showing, recounting events that transpire over a long period of time. Not much action there either, except in the characters’ hearts and minds. Despite these facts, there is immediacy there, the sense of connection to the hero. I sympathized with him. I felt his pain. I wished him to find his way, wherever it might lead him.
The fantasy genre is just a hint, manifesting in the imaginary geography, and the magic only runs in the background. And still, I doubt the events of this story could’ve occurred here and now, or any time in our actual historical past. The subtlety of this story touches not only its genre but also its relationship undertones. Could we love across the generational gap? How does such love change? How does it transform us? What is really love?
The author doesn’t give straight answers to any of these questions but she makes you think.
Illustration (from the Tor.com page) by Matt Stawicki