Short Story Review: The Sycamore and the Sybil

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I really ought to review more short stories. I mean yeah, sure, that would mean I’d have to read more short stories but that’s not the point. Well, it is kinda the point. Anyway, I want to tell you about a short story in the March/April 2020 issue of Uncanny written by Alix E. Harrow called “The Sycamore and the Sybil.”

It’s a story about a woman who turned herself into a Sycamore tree along the banks of the Big Sandy River, and another young woman named Kat who is pursued by a “wolf,” a man who isn’t the best of men. It’s a story about fighting for yourself, and women who aren’t going to let themselves be mistreated and abused anymore. It’s a story about women helping women. And it’s a story about spells and witchcraft and…well…magic.

I read “The Sycamore and the Sybil” when it was first published as I tend to read anything by Harrow as soon as I can get my hands on it. I loved it at the time and tweeted about it

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So that’s basically my review…

“It is painful and stunning and powerful. Harrow wields magic in her stories gifted by the muses. Read, dance, and burn it all down.”

What I didn’t know at the time was “The Sycamore and the Sybil” is set in the same world as The Once and Future Witches. 

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Yep…Harrow snuck something by us back in March, a quick peak into the witchy setting she created in her most recent novel set to be released later this month.

In my review of The Once and Future Witches I noted how it,is more like some of her short stories, poetic at times and still very rich, but more pointed and focused on a mood or emotion.” When I wrote that I was thinking partly about this story! It was sitting there in the back of my mind as one of a few examples of Harrow’s short work and how tightly focused they can be in relation to mood and emotion and the way they just hit you in the gut. Harrow was casting a little spell months in advance and we didn’t have a clue.

“The Sycamore and the Sybil” is set in Crow County along the Big Sandy, one of the locations of The Once and Future Witches. In it you’ll find a number of references to things in the novel, some overt and others very subtle. If you read the short story first you’ll get a hint of what’s in store for you when you read the book…but just a hint. If you read the book first then turn to the story you’ll find all manner of things to make you smile and maybe even shed a tear as you remember events and characters from the novel. Either way I recommend you read both because they are fantastic.

Anyway, just wanted to pass that along. Hope you enjoy the read.

– Jason

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