This short story was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It currently has six recommendations on the Nebula Reading List.

Kavian is a sorcerer of the Cteri, the people of the dams, making war against the Efficate that wants the water they have captured in their reservoirs. The Efficate have wizards, too, but they are weak in comparison to the weapons of the Cteri. These weapons are abused children called abnarch who have been kept in dark, solitary confinement for their whole lifetimes. Kavain is given the abnarch girl, Irasht, to use as a weapon in the war. Her own abnarch daughter, Heurian, is given to another sorcerer, Fereyd Japur. The two use the girls to destroy the Efficate armies. Heurian dies, but Irasht is saved when the Efficate break off the war. Kavian then revolts against the system, challenging the female warlord Absu to release the imprisoned children.

This is a fully developed story, very personal and written in the present tense. Because it’s about abused children meant to be used as vessels, it’s very emotionally charged for our society that protects children so heavily. Absu is very pragmatic, without any apparent feelings clouding her decisions. However, both Kavian and Japur are plagued with guilt and get attached to their charges. By the end of the story Kavian has taught Irasht to talk and think, and uses her to press the revolt.

This is a very competent work meant to be emotional manipulation. I’m impressed at Dickinson’s skill at putting it together–he hits on a lot of current memes, strong females and disadvantaged men, etc. However, I’m a little hard to manipulate emotionally, so this just comes across as offensive because of the child abuse. There are also some other issues: First with the Cteri, who seem to be hogging all the water in the region and then abusing the children as a means of defending their civilization—there’s no mention that maybe they should just share. Next, I doubt very much that sorcerers who have grown up within this system would wallow in guilt or even question how it works—that’s imposed from our culture. Last, children who have been kept in the dark this way will likely be insane and not loving or trainable in any way. It’s also likely they will be blind.

I’ll give it some extra credit for the quality of the writing. Excellent imagery, character development and world building.

Four stars.

I think this one is a potential nominee.

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