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Doherty-Sunkissed Feathers-coverMisti is in trouble. She’s got a cursed pendant fused to her chest, she’s been kicked off the Fantasy Police Force, and her crush probably isn’t even into her.

Worst of all, no one she meets is even remotely qualified to help her with these things.

Many of us have been in this position in real life at least once, which is probably why it’s so satisfying when Misti snaps. After roughly three weeks of journeying and a whole string of various authorities telling her that they are utterly unable to help her with the cursed pendant fused to her chest (which has already killed two people), her outburst is entirely understandable.

“How?” Misti yelled, fear making her stand and glare at Gilmoer. The snowleet fluttered up at the intensity of her voice. “How do your people know nothing? How can that be possible? You’re the best in the world, and yet you know nothing? Nothing at all? … What am I supposed to do? Find a quiet place in the middle of nowhere until someone, somewhere, finds a banished Blood crafter who can tell me something? Hope a suncreature ambles along so I can kill it? Hope it kills me, perhaps?” Misti slumped back into the chair, defeated. “I don’t know what to do,” she mumbled.

Gilmoer may not be a doctor, but the magical help Misti seeks has clear parallels to the frustrating real-life quest line of chronic illness, the shuffle from your physician to the internalist to the specialist, back to your regular physician, off with a referral to a second, more expensive specialist two towns over, maybe with a side trip to the emergency room thrown in somewhere along the way. Every magico-medical expert healer and genius craftsman that Misti meets shakes their head sadly, tells her they can’t even begin to diagnose why and how the cursed pendant is stuck to her like a malicious barnacle, and sends her on her not-particularly-merry way with a referral to the next specialist.

Honestly, Misti is a paragon of self-restraint; in her shoes I’d be stomping around in a capslocky snit, snarling at everyone I met.

But Misti is resilient, despite the string of nightmarish events that bombard her; she acknowledges her anger and fear, she sits with it, and then she chooses to keep going anyway. On its surface, Sunkissed Feathers and Severed Ties seems like a simple quest narrative, but I found myself enthralled by the deep vein of righteous anger that runs through the heart of the story.

Misti’s world is both beautiful and monstrous: its magic-wielding denizens conduct their lives by night to avoid the super-powered monsters that roam during the day. These monsters can be traced back to the quasi-mythical Great Rift, when the goddess Aluriah vanquished her sister Ponuriah. Ponuriah, the supposed source of the suncreatures that prevent diurnal activity, is worshipped exclusively by bloodthirsty death cultists, and her name mainly appears in the narrative when someone is swearing.

This is just one of the ways in which Doherty has invested deep thought into her worldbuilding: she’s considered the taboos of her fictional cultures rather than relying on real-world mores. Same-sex relationships are largely accepted in this world; characters disclose their attractions and preferences with unworried ease, and regardless of any other trauma the narrative visits upon its characters, any mention of less tolerant environments serves as set dressing rather than plot points.

Doherty’s worldbuilding efforts are also apparent in how she writes about the various animals that Misti’s race, the Vagari, take as companions (think druids with Pokémon): Doherty goes out of her way not to explicitly invoke real animals as points of comparison, though the names of various creatures might help you guess what they’re derived from. The different cultures of the world are also carefully considered; the “is your pet edible?” problem is deftly sidestepped with the revelation that most Vagari stick to a vegetarian diet.

When we meet Misti, she’s part of the Moon Knights, the fantasy law enforcement squad that fights off suncreatures and sun cultists alike. However, both her inefficiency in the field and the cursed pendant have cut her career short. Abruptly dismissed from her squad, Misti will have to set out into the world to seek her cure.

But it’s dangerous to roam this world alone; Misti’s secret crush Dylori (her best friend, who has temporarily abandoned their squadron of Moon Knights) insists on accompanying her, as does the mysterious Arias Silverstone, a traveling jack-of-all-trades. As they travel through the wilderness, plagued by random encounters with ravening suncreatures, the three begin to open up to each other, laying the brickwork for a found family. It’s in these idle chats that the narrative really unfurls, relishing both the tension and intimacy of disclosure. Misti, Dylori, and Arias reveal their hopes and fears to each other a spoonful at a time, wary of rejection and mostly met with acceptance.

Of course, not all revelations go as smoothly as they hope. When Misti finally tells her friends about her abusive parents, sun cultists who sacrificed their own companion animals, Dylori reacts as though Misti has personally betrayed her. A of all, Misti has obstructed justice by not turning her parents in to the Moon Knights for imprisonment or execution—but second of B, “How long have you known? Wait, I don’t really care how long you’ve known. Why haven’t you ever told me?”

Misti hasn’t told her because it's not about Dylori, and this is precisely the reaction she was afraid of. Sunkissed Feathers spends a lot of time grappling with the survivor’s guilt Misti feels; she put on her own oxygen mask first and ran away from home as soon as she was considered an adult, saving her animal companion and leaving behind her two younger siblings. Throughout the story, Misti continually questions whether she was right to save herself first, but the narrative itself never condemns Misti for her actions, and while Dylori wouldn’t have made the same choices, she comes to understand why Misti made hers.

Neither Misti nor Dylori are good communicators, but they’re trying, and that's what makes their romance believable. Dylori is able to carry both her anger over Misti’s secrets and her affection for Misti; Misti, meanwhile, is learning that trust is a two-way street. What matters most is that when either is faced with danger, both women are willing to set aside their hurt feelings to come to the other’s aid. Their focus on mutual support makes them #relationship goals for me.

The world of the Broken Chronicles is a richly realized one, but what sold me on it was ultimately its nuanced and sympathetic depiction of trauma. As Misti continually wrestles with the messy nuances of the abuse she’s survived, the narrative allows her room to be an imperfect victim: to be frustrated, to be exhausted, to refuse forgiveness to those who have wronged her. In a perfect world, we’d save everyone. But in Misti’s world, and in ours, you have to save yourself first.



Iori Kusano is an Asian American writer and Extremely Ordinary Office Gremlin living in Tokyo. She is a graduate of Clarion West 2017 and her fiction has previously appeared in Apex Magazine. Find her on Twitter @IoriKusano, or at kusanoiori.com.
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18 Jan 2021

Soft Shoulder speaking softly / quick-stop-tongued lanky cur dog / lisping languid in jeans
By: Zach Ozma
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Zach Ozma
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Zach Ozma's “Soft Shoulder (Excerpt)” with a reading by the poet.
Splinters, old and new. How else can the skin remember the tree? If it hurts, that is the point.
The way I see it, this story is full of symbolic touchstones, visual elements with layers of meaning that are not always obvious, or even accessible, to the reader.
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Issue 21 Dec 2020
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7 Dec 2020
Strange Horizons is now accepting fiction submissions for the Palestinian Special issue! The issue, edited by Rasha Abdulhadi and Basma Ghalayini will be published at the end of March 2021. We are open for submissions from now until January 31, 2021. Don't wait till the end to send your work!
7 Dec 2020
تقديم الطلبات مفتوح من الان و حتى تاريخ 31 يناير 2021. قدم/ قدمي عملك عاجلا و ليس آجلا!
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