Laws of Night and Silk • 2016 • Fantasy short story by Seth Dickinson

★★★★+

Kavian is a sorceress of The Cteri, a folk at war with the huge army of the Efficate who want to get their water ressources. The Efficates have numerous wizards, but very weak in comparison. As the ultimate weapon, the Cteri foster feral children who develop enormous magical powers and are used as weapons called abnarch. Irasht is one of those children, lead by sorceress Kavian. Her own daughter is given to another wizard Fereyd by the command of Kavian’s sister and leader of war Absu. Both children are used in the war to destroy the Efficate army.

Feral children played important roles in literature, and we have numerous examples of them – starting with Gilgamesh’s brother Enkidu to Tarzan up to several contemporary stories. I just don’t know any description of this extreme violation of humanity, thus plays Dickinson with our emotions: Not only with our cultural disgust against feral children, but also with parent-child relationships leading to guilt, competition, loyalty, and yes, love.

On the other hand, the story is a heroic epos about one sorceress fighting against the rest of the world. It is not an easy story, but I loved the character development, the prose, the philosophical touch, and the setting in general. For a story of this size, a complete world-building is asked for too much. Though, I’d like to know why negotiation over water rights didn’t achieve any compromise. I can accept, that in a fantasy world children don’t get insane when locked behind walls for years.

Also, a very satisfying, open ending comes very handy in the story’s afterglow.

Meta: isfdb. Appeared in May 2016 in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Read in Best SFF 11. Read it online!

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