Sunday Short: Amal El-Mohtar's The Truth About Owls

Monday, September 14, 2015

This week's Sunday Short (coming a day late -- sorry!) is The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar, available via Strange Horizons.

This coming-of-age story follows Anisa, a teenage girl who lived in Lebanon in a time of war and now lives in Glasgow near an owl center. It is light in terms of fantasy or sci-fi, but focuses more on Welsh folk stories and the emotional experiences of an immigrant girl. She witnesses an owl killing the family's rooster in her youth and feels the first stirrings of power / her impact on the world around her.

The story didn't pull me in as much as other short stories recently have -- I don't have too much familiarity with Welsh folktales and the story of Mabinogion / Blodeuwedd wasn't really fleshed out enough for me to appreciate it's implications in this story. There were some beautiful moments, and I did appreciate the background (another coming of age story affected by war, similar to Bodard's Breath of War featured last week).

 Favorite quote:
"You're well into this, you are."

"It's just—" Anisa bites her lip, looking at Blodeuwedd, raising her slightly to shift the weight on her forearm, watching her spread her magnificent wings, then settle, "—sometimes—I feel like I'm just a collection of bits of things that someone brought together at random and called girl, and then Anisa, and then—" she shrugs. "Whatever."

Izzy is quiet for a moment. Then she says, thoughtfully, "You know, there's another word for that."

"For what?"

"What you just described—an aggregation of disparate things. An anthology. That's what The Mabinogion is, after all."

Anisa is unconvinced. "Blodeuwedd's just one part of someone else's story, she's not an anthology herself."

Izzy smiles, gently, in a way that always makes Anisa feel she's thinking of someone or something else, but allowing Anisa a window's worth of view into her world. "You can look at it that way. But there's another word for anthology, one we don't really use any more: florilegium. Do you know what it means?"

Anisa shakes her head, and blinks, startled, as Blodeuwedd does a side-wise walk up her arm to lean, gently, against her shoulder. Izzy smiles, a little more brightly, more for her, and says: "A gathering of flowers."

 Next week's story will be When it Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster available via Daily Science Fiction.

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