Magical schools have always been a staple of the fantasy genre, but these days, I find that it’s hard to read a boarding school setting without considering the inherent colonial undertones of such institutions, even when they’re imaginary. To Shape a Dragon’s Breath cuts right to the chase and is about that, offering a scathing rejection of the idea that there is one right way for a person to be educated. The idea that a creature like a dragon is also something that could be colonized, and that there is power in honoring Indigenous ways of knowledge keeping and working harmoniously with the forces of nature, rather than seeking to dominate them, is a brilliant approach that brings something truly current to the genre.
To Shape a Dragon’s Breath is also a very entertaining and fun read, full of loveable characters and intricate, original worldbuilding. I tore through it, caught up in an enthusiasm for dragons that I hadn’t experienced since I was a teenager obsessed with Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea and Anne McCaffrey’s Pern. I can only hope that there will be more stories set in this engaging new world.
‘The Salt Grows Heavy’ by Cassandra Khaw
In this story, a king takes a mermaid as a wife and their children are born with a ravenous hunger. The mermaid departs her former husband’s ravaged kingdom and travels the land with a strange but gentle plague doctor, seeking a new story — but it may prove to be even more harrowing than the one they left behind.
This slip of a novella reads more like a poem or a fireside oration recited by some bard of old than it does like a traditional fantasy or horror novel. It is gory and grotesque, full of severed body parts and the sort of people who consume them. But it is also beautiful in its darkness; much like the mermaids of lore — before they were transformed into manatee-sweet, soft-haired sirens — it has teeth. Readers in the mood to savor a silver-tongued little nightmare will sink happily into its depths.
‘Mortal Follies’ by Alexis Hall
This sapphic historical romance with a supernatural twist is narrated by none other than that shrewd and knavish sprite called Robin Goodfellow, servant of the fairy king. Or rather, former servant. Out of favor, our narrator is forced to live as a mortal and (ugh) make a living telling tales…