This is a dark fantasy novelette and Nebula finalist published by Uncanny Magazine. It ended up with 13 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

The desert calls to Ellis nightly, and his friend Marisol comes out to look for him as he changes into a boy again. Both of them work at Madam Lettie’s whorehouse, and tonight Marisol tells him that a group of mining company men have come and that one asked for Ellis. When he sees the men, a preacher man sets off the desert urge, and Ellis can’t control it. He runs for the desert, but the preacher man follows him, reveals that he knew Ellis’ father. The man smells of death. Back at the whorehouse, William Lacombe of the mining company wants Ellis to accompany them to survey the caved-in mine. As they near it, they find the site is protected by the animated dead. William pushes Ellis to stop them, and he finds he can do it. It turns out William can do this, too, but he needs Ellis as protection against the desert. At this point, the desert takes control of Ellis, and William’s man Samuel shoots and kills him. Ellis wakes to find the desert and the preacher man having a conversation. Power fills him and he moves the boulders closing the caved-in mine, allowing the dead to escape. As dark clouds form, the horde sets off for the town where Ellis says good-bye to Marisol.

There’s a lot here, including great character development, images and world building. As usual, Wong’s prose has a smooth, evocative flow. Sometimes her plotting doesn’t live up to the style, but this time it does. The work is about how bad things happen to good people, a collision of darkness against natural powers and how this affects a boy and girl that care about each other.

Four and a half stars.

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