Oh, how I loved this one. It’s basically a shifted/adjusted re-telling of a sword-in-the-stone tale, but where the prophecy states it will be a woman heir to a particular family line, and, as always, Mardoll’s take on this fantasy trope is through a trasngender or nonbinary lens, and this time, “Daughter of Kings,” (found in No Man of Woman Born) brings us Finndís, who keeps her name and reality secret to all but her closest confidant, and who is about to come face-to-face with a destiny she barely dared to consider.
The strength of this tale is so inherently in the characters, I cannot even begin to tell you. Finndís’s brother, Rúni, is as adorable as he is frustratingly annoying in that little-brother way, and his impulsiveness-as-plot-device reads wholly realistically rather than forced, which itself lends back to the character depth of their father (whose shadow looms over most of the story and only actively appears in the denouement). A little boy who wants to see the legendary sword up close and won’t be denied is a great way to spark the tale.
The magic and fantastical weave together in this story through a witch, the prophecy, and the magical sword itself, but again the real joy is in the characters, and while this story doesn’t have what I’d call enthusiastic acceptance by any means, it has a canny woman in Finndís who knows how to play reality to her advantage, and who has just enough support among those gathered that you leave the story knowing this will end well for her, and her triumph is all the more satisfying for it.