“Book Review: Broken Metropolis”
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
Roam the urban landscape of your dreams—and nightmares—with this diverse and inclusive story collection.
Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was presents ten first-rate speculative fiction short stories, all with LGBTQ+ protagonists and often with an urban-fantasy vibe. Each story is grounded in its own “city that never was,” and settings range from urban-glitz to urban-grit. These tales will please any reader who enjoys well-wrought, three-dimensional characters, intriguing plot lines, and language mastery. It might sound like high praise, but that’s only because it is.
Some say the fantasy genre is at its core about magic. In that respect, this collection doesn’t disappoint. For example, “Under Her White Stars” by Jacob Budenz features some of my favorite descriptions of magical workings, like, “The door was booby-trapped with a very sophisticated portal, a transparent silver sheen over the doorway which I could see shimmering in the air with my second sight . . . Subtle, but brilliant–it was all in the fake doorbell, which, when triggered, was wired to open the portal only for non-practitioners like Lionel. I focused on the selective element of the portal magic (which showed up as a gossamer red sigil above the door) and pulled it out.”
The magic ranges from the subtle astrology of “Venus Conjunct Saturn” by Claire Rudy Foster to the Technicolor razzle-dazzle of “Neon” by M. Raoulee, but is always growing organically from the worldbuilding.
Although varying in length—“Familiar” by kx carys is a little gem of microfiction as love and magic intertwine in a playful debate over ravens—most of the stories are of a conventional narrative style. However, “Dissonance, Part I” by D.M. Rice is a de-constructed marvel, a weird prose-poem about a rather eventful date night at a garage opera.
Broken Metropolis’s protagonists are often mundane folks affected by the magic afoot in their city, be it protective, like “The City of Cats,” by Victoria Zelvin, or something more sinister, like “The Strange Places in the City,” by Meghan Cunningham or “Your Heart in My Teeth” by V. Medina. I most enjoyed the stories told from the point of view of the badass magic users themselves, like “Perseus on Two Wheels,” by H. Pueyo and Budenz’s “Under Her White Stars.”
As much as these are fantasy stories about magic, they are also literary stories about the human condition told through the life experiences of genuine, believable people. “The Plague-Eater” by Caspian Gray is by all rights a horror tale, but the fine portrayal of love found and lost is deeply affective.
All the stories in Broken Metropolis excel in the departments of language and imagery. For example, Foster’s “Venus Conjunction Saturn” effectively weaves worldbuilding, character development, and the joy of wordplay in this line about the transgender protagonist’s sun sign: “Also, being Pisces, Angie struggled to see problems until they were right on top of her, rising over her head like a wave that was so big she’d never be able to out-swim it. This time, the wave’s name was Kate.”
As editor dave ring says in the introductory note, “Queer people are used to reading themselves into subtext and sidelong glances, both in writing and in lived experience. . . Fiction, as with all art, has the power to bear witness. To make the reader feel seen, acknowledged, and validated.” These LGBTQ+ characters add layers of verisimilitude and intricacy to universal struggles: knowing their own truth and living it, finding love in sometimes hostile environments, and, of course and above all, getting the very tricky magic just right.
Category: Short story anthology
Publisher: Mason Jar Press
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