This novelette is a Hugo finalist published by Apex Magazine in January 2016.

Grandma Harken lives on the edge of the desert and tends her garden. As her tomatoes ripen, they begin to disappear, so Harken waits up at night with her shotgun. The thief turns out to be shapeshifter mocking bird woman that is enslaved by an unnamed enchanter. Harken lets her go in the morning, but follows her a distance into the desert. When the bird disappears, Harken sees train rails, so she realizes she needs to consult with the train gods. Her friend Anna’s grandson is a priest that hooks her up, and armed with knowledge of where to look, Harken sets off again into the desert. She meets a coyote, negotiates folded reality, frees a Gila dragon and finally locates the decaying house of the misplaced god. Does she have the strength to free his captives?

This seems to be standard Vernon fare, as all I’ve read from her includes similar themes of magical realism and the mystic properties of everyday people and things. This particular story references last years’ Nebula finalist, “The Jackalope Wives” and uses the same setting and some of the same characters.

Pros: The story features a strong elderly woman as a protagonist, which we certainly need more of. It has a folksy, authentic Western feel to it, and the characters are suitably magical. It includes good world-building with the folding realities. This is very readable, and the characters and images well-drawn.

Cons: I can’t believe the description of the cat. Any feline that lives on the edge of the desert like that is going to be just as ornery and magical as everything else. There’s not much development of the captives’ characters, and I ended up not knowing where they’re from or what might happen to them after they’re freed—especially the Gila dragon. Are we going to meet that creature wandering around on our next trip to the desert? Hm.

Three and a half stars.

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