Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky

The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window is another Nebula-nominated story linked from my personal favorite website, Free SF Online.  The main trope is familiar, a soul bound in magic, this time for all eternity, summoned back occasionally for her knowledge of magic.  But this story is powerfully unique in its treatment of how magic interacts with ambition. 

The protagonist is bound early in the story, a result of treachery.  She has her revenge on the one who bound her, but the story is only getting started there.  She continues to get called back through time, to advise future societies.  They study and develop magic almost as a science, getting better and better at it but still needing the old versions.  Our subject grows reluctantly fond of several of those she has called. 

The protagonist is an unrelieved bigot, of the fashionable sort--no men allowed to have magic.  And she is called on it as well, by the most sympathetic characters in the story.  She does not change, but she does evolve over time and at least sometimes judge people as individuals.  Fully drawn characters interacting with interesting ideas are the true heart of speculative fiction, and Swirsky has done it well here.  A rare 4 stars.

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