I’m dipping back into RETOLD for my second short story review for Once Upon a Time IX, the internet-wide celebratory blogathon of Fairytale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythological fiction.
In Her Head, In Her Eyes
by Yukimi Ogawa
A servant is tortured by her peers, only to be spared drowning by the appearance of a master — but she endures their abuse thinking only of a colour, a pattern, seemingly oblivious to what could have been a brush with death. She is employed by a family of artisans renowned for their dyes, and rumour has it she hails from an island nation populated solely by the most beautiful and decorated of peoples, always seeking new modes for self-expression — but Hase is a bizarre figure, drab and unlovely, and crowned by a domed bowl of reflective metal which not even the most determined of tormentors can prise from her head to reveal whatever lies beneath.
Her workload is menial, though she hungrily scrutinises the patterns and shades that surround her, but if she was sent to steal from the family their trade secrets appear to be safe. All she seems to have claimed is the attention of the handsome third son, whose interest in her spark rumours of a different sort amongst the rest of the staff. But a visit from the older brothers — and more significantly their preening, scheming, competitive wives — signals an escalation in Hase’s treatment that has some very unexpected consequences…
In Her Head, In Her Eyes is beautifully written, and much like Scale Bright it demonstrates how unfamiliarity with the mythology of a culture (here Japanese, there Chinese) is no automatic impediment to enjoying fiction which jumps out at your from that unknown.
As with the other stories in RETOLD, an afterword and short interview allow each author to comment on their work, and in this case Ogawa describes the traditional tale that gave rise to her reinterpretation. I’m not going to share that with you, partly because I didn’t get to read it in advance either — though I don’t think doing so would spoil this story.
I enjoyed this tale, and the resolution took me by surprise. I went into this collection making the default assumption that, with them all being inspired by fairytales, I would be getting six works of fantasy. However, In Her Head, In Her Eyes strongly hints that it might be science fiction instead (or such was my impression when I finished it, but that was a little while ago and I subsequently lost my Kindle, so I can’t read back… grrrrrr) and that makes for a pleasant change of pace.
I’m firmly of the opinion that attempting to erect impenetrable barriers between the speculative genres is a mistake, so I’m happy to see a bleeding through of one to another like this. Also to see another quality cover: all six pieces in the collection have their own artwork, and all of them distinctive and attractive.
I’ll review the third story next Sunday, but before that a classic of what is now called YA — Alan Garner’s The Owl Service…