Review: “Into the Gray” by Margaret Killjoy


Release Date:
Genre: Fantasy

Welcome to Short Fiction Week, a biannual feature of five days of reviews of short stories and novelettes from across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum. All of the short fiction highlighted in this series is available free online, but please support the author and publications hosting this incredible work.


My Thoughts


I’m a big fan of Margaret Killjoy, but so far the only thing I’d ever read of hers is her killer Danielle Cain series. It’s a dark novella series, rural fantasy crossed and anarchic demon hunters and queer upon queer upon queer. In other words, it’s fucking awesome. Into the Gray isn’t part of Danielle Cain’s world but it shares a similar vibe.

This is a dark, romantic little story about a transwoman thief in love with a monstrous mermaid. The young woman, Laria, lures bad men to the Waking Waters, a large pool in the forest not far from the town of Scilla. There, the Lady of the Waking Waters draws them in and eats them alive. Laria is deeply in love with the Lady, and the Lady in turn feels connected to Laria. All Laria wants is to spend the rest of her life with the Lady. After they kill a wealthy soldier, Laria takes the gold she stole off his corpse and pays a local witch to turn her into a mermaid. But before the spell can be completed, the dead man’s army buddies come after her and the Lady. Laria will have to make a choice: stay and fight and die or run and live but never see the love of her life again.

There is romance in this story, but it’s not a romance, at least not in the way most allosexuals consider traditional. Although the Lady doesn’t define herself this way, it seems like she’s aromantic. Perhaps I’m seeing a bit of my own self in her (although I’m ace and aro, not just aro), but it’s rather obvious to me. She loves Laria sexually and platonically, but not romantically. The relational conflict comes when Laria’s romantic attraction isn’t returned. But ultimately, Laria decides she can live without that reciprocation. It doesn’t diminish their relationship, just changes it. And it’s already changed by Laria being trans, so what’s one more shift off the binary?

Into the Gray is a chilling, charming short story about powerful women and the wicked men they punish. Killjoy builds a whole world out of a few thousand words and fills it with beautiful writing and haunting characters. This is a must-read for sure.

I only led the worst of men down to the Waking Waters and death, down to my love in the pool below the falls. I only led the foul men with filth on their tongues, the rich men who contrived to rule other men. I only led the men with hatred in their hearts and iron in their hands. I spurred them on with tales of hidden silver or the sight of my girlish thigh, down out from the mountain town of Scilla, down to the hills and the pines and the ruttish perfume of wildflowers.

All so that the Lady of the Waters might love me.

Well, that and so I could rob their corpses.

Read the full story online.

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