Saturday, 17 November 2012

Places Historic (Selective Shorts Series)

Highlighting another short story I located courtesy of Lightspeed Magazine today, this being Holly Black's Heartless.

Heartless is a narrative concerning the aftermath of battle and destruction – and the pickings which may be sifted from the battle ground in that aftermath by those who follow in the wake of the warriors; the camp women who scavenge amongst the corpses.  Ada is one such and this is her story.  The story of a “hedge-witch no more”, forced to scrounge for the spoils of war as part of the camp or face the possibility she may be killed by those who have invaded her lands.

Death appears in many guises within what is a deceptively short story at 3656 words – not only does Ada make her way through the physical remnants of the soldiers’ remains as they lie discarded about the battlefield but she is faced with the choice concerning whether or not to leave a surviving soldier to his eventual demise.  When she attempts to abandon him she is prevented from doing so by an ancestral manes, whose innate capability for good or ill is rumoured to be questionable.

Similarly, sacrifice plays an important part within the overall story arc.  Ada wears a finger bone about her neck to sever her emotions from the situation in which she finds herself and ensure she feels no fear or pain.  Ultimately, as the story proceeds, it becomes clear that there is more than the literal and simplistic manner in which pain can be encountered and that there are circumstances within which failing to act or care may be more harmful than the alternative.  Further, Ada’s choice concerning whether to live or die mirrors her decision regarding the nobleman she must decide whether to aid or leave to death. 

The imagery related to the severed finger and manner in which Ada is thus rendered “heartless”, as per the title, is also neat, with Roman culture in mind.  An economic tale which takes us to places historic.   

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