Short Stories 366:122 — “Antonia and Cleopatra,” by Matthew Bright

coverAs of today, I’m a third of the way through my Short Stories 366 project! Huzzah for short fiction! I admit that I’m psyched, and I know I’ve said it over and over again, but I love short fiction and it’s been grand thus far. Now onward.

Speaking of “over and over again,” one of the things that happened with Stories to Sing in the Dark was my checking out which place an individual story was originally published, and then either (a) buying a copy of the anthology or magazine in question, or (b) realizing I already owned the anthology or magazine in question and hadn’t read it yet. This was a case of the latter, and it reminded me to get off my butt and make time for Clockwork Cairo.

“Antonia and Cleopatra” are a mother-and-daughter team unlike any I’ve read before, and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. The setting—a steampunk alternate historical Egypt—begins with a group of inept British soldiers trying to stop a theft, failing miserably (this is how we met Antonia) and trying to give chase after she gets away, only for her to make it to a large floating brothel run by the so-called “Iron Mistress” (this is how we meet Cleopatra).

Antonia has a mystical object d’art (or relic, or something) she’s trying to offload, Cleopatra has the contacts, and together, they have a simple plan to make some profit.


Gah. So gorgeous.

Which, of course, goes pear shaped in roughly thirty seconds.

What follows is a tongue-firmly-in-cheek adventure with borderline slapstick moments mixed with seriously great wordplay, a cadence in language that’s pitch-perfect for humour, and even a bit of mayhem and ancient evil curses and perhaps a lost soul or two. It’s brilliant, and I loved it, and I would read more adventures of Antonia and Cleopatra in a heartbeat.

Oh, and good news on that front from the author, or at least I choose to believe it to be so:

From the Author:

Cleopatra Bonny is a character from much-rewritten-but-not-yet-seen steampunk detective novel which I’ve been writing since steampunk was the hottest new genre. But she’s more than that! The dominatrix madam with the glass-bottomed floating brothel is a fictional version of a close friend (with her enthusiastic consent; she even picked the name!) and Cleopatra’s adventures have extended through years of birthday gifts: stories and books, and even once a full two act musical. Antonia and Cleopatra goes a step further: it immortalises her badass mother (who in real life is actually an international globetrotting translator of ancient language, not a grave-robber, but call it artistic license.) Of all my stories this was by far the lightest, pulpiest, and so naturally was like pulling teeth to write (let nobody tell you otherwise: dense literary prose is easy to write, froth is HARD.)

You can find Matthew Bright online at his website.


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