I keep saying this about Skin Deep Magic: Short Fiction, but I’m going to say it again: the stories in this collection compliment each other while ranging far and wide in tone and feeling. By the time I finished “Death and Two Maidens,” I found myself wondering if I’d read a ghost story, a love story, or something akin to a chosen family across the barriers of life, death, and spirit. Either way, I truly enjoyed the story, and like all of Gidney’s stories, the weaving of the magic with the realism is so seamless it draws the reader right into the tale.
In “Death and Two Maidens,” we meet Prothenia Jenkins as she takes her own life, then spin backwards to find out what led her down the paths of misery and loneliness, and then we return to her in her new state: formless, alight on the mist, and aware that she’s not alive, but she’s not gone, either. Prothenia was a maid and childminder for a family, and as she flits around in her afterlife, she is drawn back to her former chambers, and sees her replacement on the day she’s hired.
What follows is a connection Prothenia couldn’t have imagined, a terrifying danger in the form of a spirit that wants to take possession of all that remains of Prothenia, and an unexpected ally and protector. The forces collide in a battle for Prothenia’s existence, and Gidney raises the stakes one twist at a time, with shudder-worthy descriptions of the evil force after her spirit. Ultimately, though, for a tale that begins with death and never quite leaves the realm, “Death and Two Maidens” does indeed feel like the start of something loving or the gathering of a found family, rather than an ending, and that’s just another example of the kind of magic Gidney writes.