Short Stories 366:314 — “The Man in the Mask,” by Emma Faraday

My exposure and awareness of steampunk writing is pretty small—it’s not a sub-genre I find myself bumping into much, and beyond some stories I’ve really enjoyed from Matthew Bright, I can’t clearly recall many of them at all. Emma Faraday’s entry from Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories, however, was a delight, and the addition of aliens to the alternate history/Canadian steampunk setting is really, really enticing (and, it turns out, there are novels in this same world, which maybe adds clarity to how fleshed out and cohesive the world-building felt in this short story).

We meet a woman, Violet, taking a flight to the North of Canada on a small airship (literally just her and a captain) to scatter the ashes of her dead sister over the place where her sister’s fiancé passed. She is very much alone; her parents have died in an accident, her sister passed after a sudden illness, and her remaining family is neither supportive not compassionate. Despite all this loss, Violet comes across as strong and determined, which is why it’s not surprising she survives the sudden turn of events that leave her scrambling for her life and the airship falling from the sky.

What follows is a steampunk speculative-fiction murder-mystery set in the Canadian north, with unexpected allies, shoot-outs, and a dash of the alien alongside Violet, a character who is really, really easy to root for. I was genuinely a little sad to see this tale end, and wanted more, which, happily, is rectified in learning Emma Faraday does exactly that with her novel Backli’s Ford, under Marcelle Dubé. Definitely a highlight of the anthology as a whole.

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