Short Stories 366:159 — “King’s Favor,” by Ana Mardoll

coverHi, my name is ‘Nathan and I am a collection hoarder. (Hi, ‘Nathan!) Okay, as Pride Month continues, I’ve been grabbing from my giant freaking stack of queer short fiction collections and anthologies I’ve owned for (mumble-mumble) years, and diving back in and holy crap, why did I wait so long to get back to No Man of Woman Born again? It’s a collection of tales where transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies, and I have to tell you, each one has just nudged my enjoyment up a notch from the one that came before. I don’t read a lot of fantasy—partly because so often the gender lines are, well, drawn pretty damn tight—but in Mardoll’s hands, this isn’t the case, and is actively not the case as the point. I’m loving it.

“King’s Favor,” tells the story of a spy and (literal) hedge-wizard, Caran. Nee is capable of some magic, but it’s all plant based, and as such, it’s not like nee’s a thread of any kind, but the kingdom Caran has been spying on is run by a witch queen known for rounding up magical people of any kind and then those people either (a) joining the hunters who help track down more magical people, or (b) never being heard from again. No one knows why, exactly, but magic in this world is closely tied to keeping track of nature, and the former network of magical people is basically broken because of this queen, and thus their on-site knowledge of nature in the queen’s nation has holes, which is affecting magic, and so, spy.

What follows is Caran attempting to leave this kingdom with ner information, and what happens when instead nee triggers a magic-sensitive alarm and is caught. When all you’ve got to work with is magic based on plants, figuring a way out of this sort of situation is pretty much hopeless, no? Well, not really, as Caran is clever, nature is full of surprises, and—more importantly—Caran might just be everything the kingdom is hoping for. It’s a clever and tightly-woven story, with some fantastic world building alongside the running theme of the subversion of prophecy plots.

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