Short Stories 366:166 — “His Father’s Son,” by Ana Mardoll

coverAnother swing-and-a-hit from No Man of Woman Born, a collection of prophecy-busting fantasy with transgender and nonbinary leads. “His Father’s Son” brings us to young Nocien, a survivor of a terrible assault that wiped out most of his family camp, who is living with those who found him when he managed to escape. Learning swordplay, and nominally adopted into this new family, Nocien longs for revenge and the opportunity to take it, and the day finally arrives when the same force that attacked his family is sighted heading for his new one.

There are a couple of wonderful bits of world-building in this tale: the way the large, extended family/camps work among them, with shared parenting duties and puppy-piles of children and adults in tents. The semi-nomadic culture is brushed on with light strokes, but it’s enough to grant a fully-formed picture of this fantasy world and setting, and the adoptive family/camp’s frantic “tear it all down and move” was a pacing win to set the stakes high from the get go.

Nocien’s decision to take this opportunity to kill the man who destroyed his family is frought with tension (though knowing that Mardoll would never kill the main character is a welcome bit of reader meta-knowledge, frankly), and his ultimate squaring off with the brute in question is really, really satisfying. These fantasy stories can be brutal in places (and they are), but with Mardoll at the helm, I never feel like I’m in danger of hopelessness, and that’s a huge, huge win and not something I can underscore enough.

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