Locus Finalist: The Justified • 2019 • Africanfuturism novelette by Ann Leckie

★★★★☆

HET HAD EATEN NOTHING FOR weeks but bony, gape-mawed fish—some of them full of neurotoxin. She’d had to alter herself so she could metabolize it safely, which had taken some doing. So when she ripped out the walsel’s throat and its blood spurted red onto the twilit ice, she stared, salivary glands aching, stomach growling. She didn’t wait to butcher her catch but sank her teeth into skin and fat and muscle, tearing a chunk away from its huge shoulder

Synopsis: Het is an immortal human with some superpowers like altering her metabolism. She’s alone in the ice, hunting huge but neurotoxic fishes. Dihaut, an emissary from the paranoid autarch, summons her back from her self-imposed exile. She is the executive force and is ordered to investigate and eradicate the rebellious single-lived humans, like she did it multiple times in the past.

On her way to do justice, she meets two children:

The smaller, voice trembling, said, “Please don’t kill us, Noble Het.”
Het frowned, and looked behind her, only to see Great Among Millions a short way off, peering at her from behind a screen of willow leaves. “Why would I do such a thing?” Het asked the child. “Are you rebels, or criminals?”
The older child grabbed the younger one’s arm, held it tight. “The Noble Het kills who she pleases,” they said.

After that, she starts her lethal rampage under the folk of the Justified.

Review: The author based her work on Egyptian godess Sekhmet, transformed to a far future, transhuman version. While certain motives like the rampage against humans, poisoning a god to calm them down, and several details of the setting remind of the ancient myths, the author find an innovative and fascinating take on the old story embedded in a rich, beautiful setting.

Het seemed to be calm at the story’s start, but her anger and wildness grew linearly with the plot’s progression. Her twisting character is likable and scaring at the same time. In fact, the Egyptians had a yearly festival in honor of the fact that Sekhmet was convinced to stop slaughtering humanity.

The simple plot unfolded into exciting plot twists and interesting ways.

Quite confusing were her spotwise usage of singular-they – I understand the importance of LBGT+ promotion but found it to impact the reading flow negatively. Besides of that, I liked the beautiful prose and the gripping narration which I fully recommend to advanced readers of SF.

Meta: isfdb. Published in the anthology The Mythic Dream. Read as part of the 2019 Locus Finalists.

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