The Tomato Thief • 2016 • Magical realism novelette by Ursula Vernon

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis: Grandma Harken is back, after the issue with the Jackalope Wives. She lives alone on the edge of the desert, because that’s were the tomatoes grow best. She can hardly wait for this season’s ripe tomatoes, laid out on a sandwich.

“Blessed St. Anthony, give me strength to defend my tomatoes.”

But the first tomato is stolen. And the second one. She can’t figure out who it was.

She wrapped herself up in a quilt that night and sat in the rocking chair on the back porch. “We’ll see what kind of rat bastard steals an old lady’s tomatoes,” she grumbled.

She spends the night waking with her shotgun to catch the eponymous thief of her famous tomatoes.  It doesn’t show itself first, until Grandma Harken finds a pair of tiny footprints. 

“Shapechanger,” she said to Spook-cat, who slept in a small orange puddle atop the pillow. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Again.”

What follows is a relentless pursuit of the culprit.

“I need your old mule,” Grandma Harken told him. “The one I like to ride.”
Tomas looked at her, gazed briefly heavenward, and said, “That mule died five years ago, Abuela Harken.”
Grandma blinked. “What’d he die of?”
“Old age,” said Tomas, who was always extremely respectful but had a sense of humor anyway.

Which finally leads to dragons, folded worlds, and monsters from far away. 

Review:  Grandma Harken is a fascinating, grumpy, and humorous protagonist bearing lots of secrets, the art of raising tomato plants just one of them. 

A straight story full of magical around a delightful mix of Native American myths including coyotes, the desert, and the jackrabbit. There also is a piece of Russian folklore, the Koschei, mixed into the setting.  Not as lyrical as some other stories, its charm is based mostly on tough Grandma Harken. Add to it a shy romance and a twist at the end, and you’ll get a perfectly entertaining, heartwarming story. There is of course the Gila river landscape, just south of Phoenix. 

The most innovative element are the train-gods, smelling of hot gunmetal, with their Chinese, Black, or Irish priests. Come on, train-gods, you’ve never heard of those!

The only thing that I didn’t buy at all was that shy cat. But maybe that’s just me.

You don’t need to read Jackalope Wives (review), but the older story was a touch better than this one.

Recommended for readers of grumpy elderly protagonists determined to bring things to an end.

Meta: isfdb. This fantasy short story is available in Apex Januar 2016 issue. It won the Hugo Award.


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2 Responses to The Tomato Thief • 2016 • Magical realism novelette by Ursula Vernon

  1. Pingback: Quest Log the First

  2. I’m always here for Grandma Harken – I do love grumpy older protagonists 😉 – but agreed, it was the train gods that really stood out in this story.

    Liked by 1 person

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