Sunday, January 15, 2017

Short Fiction Month: The Language of Knives - Haralambi Markov

Other than that he is from Bulgaria I know very little of Haralambi  Markov. He has published only a handful of stories thus far. The Language of Knives originally appeared on Tor.com and was later reprinted in The Apex Book of World SF 4. The story is somewhere between fantasy and horror. It is beautifully written but pretty gruesome. Probably not everybody's cup of tea.

A father and daughter are performing the death rites for a great warrior. To send him of to his gods, his body is baked into a cake in an elaborate ritual. While they perform the ritual and deal with their personal grief, old hurt between the two of them surfaces.

The setting of this story seems mythological. The deceased warrior performed all sorts of heroic acts, battling mythological foes. When I read that kind of fantasy in the short form, I always get the feeling that there is a lot more to the setting than the story is showing me. It didn't bother me as much as in other fantasy shorts though. Worldbuilding is not what the author is concerned with.

Another thing we never find out is who the narrator is. The story is told from a second person point of view, which Markov uses very effectively to show the tension between the demands of the ritual and the strong emotions the characters are experiencing. The author keeps a bit of distance from the characters, just like the characters have to keep their grief at bay for the duration of the ritual.

Markov is not shy about describing the grisly details of the ritual. Caring for the dead is usually no pleasant task but this ritual takes it very far. It makes you wonder what kind of gods would demand such an offering. Again, the author creates a huge contrast, this time between the love and tenderness implied by the act of caring for a dead loved one and the horrific nature of the act itself.

When the dam does burst, the climax of the story proves very powerful indeed. The need for the characters to understand each other, to share their grief and to come to terms with the other's choices in life.

The Language of Knives is a powerful story, one that swings between extremes. It is a story in which prose and perspective are used to emphasize this and as such, it is a well written tale. Whether all readers will appreciate having their buttons pushed quite so forcefully is doubtful but this story shows Markov is a talented author. I understand he is working on a novel at the moment. I for one, am curious to see what he can do in the long form.

Story Details
Title: The Language of Knives
Author: Haralambi Markov
Language: English
Originally published: Tor.com, February 4th. 2015
Read in: The Apex Book of World SF 4. edited by Mahvesh Murad and Lavie Tidhar (2016)
Story length: Short Story, approximately 2,700 words
Awards: None
Available online: Tor.com

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