Birthday Reviews: Kelly Link’s “The Constable of Abal”

Birthday Reviews: Kelly Link’s “The Constable of Abal”

Cover by Charles Vess
Cover by Charles Vess

Kelly Link was born on July 19, 1969.

Link won the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award for the story “Travels with the Snow Queen” in 1998. She won her first World Fantasy Award in 1999 for “The Specialist’s Hat” and received a Special Award for her work, with Gavin J. Grant, on Small Beer Press and Big Mouth House in 2009. Link and Grant also won a World Fantasy Award for the anthology Monstrous Affections in 2015. Link won a Nebula Award for Novelette for “Louise’s Ghost” in 2002 and in 2006 won two Nebulas, for the novella “Magic for Beginners” and the novelette “The Faery Handbag,” the latter of which had won the Hugo Award the year before. In 2005, she, along with Ellen Datlow and Grant, won the Bram Stoker Award of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventeenth Annual Collection in the first year she and Grant took over editorial duties from Terri Windling. “Magic for Beginners” was also the recipient of the British SF Association Award. Link received the Shirley Jackson Award for “The Summer People” in 2012 and her story “The Game of Smash and Recovery” received the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 2016.

“The Constable of Abal” was first published in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales in 2007. Jonathan Strahan picked the story for inclusion in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Two and Link selected it for her story collection Pretty Monsters. In 2013, the story was reprinted in the July issue of Apex Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas.

Ozma’s mother, Zilla, is a con woman, a blackmailer, and someone who can see and bind ghosts, abilities which Ozma is learning from her. They lead a comfortable life in the city of Abal until Zilla kills a constable and they have to flee, although Ozma brings the constable’s ghost with her as they make their way home.

Although Zilla claims they are returning to a home Ozma can’t quite remember, she brings her daughter to the village of Brid instead, a lazy backwater filled with churches. Zilla takes a job as a cook to Lady Frelix and has Ozma masquerade as a boy. While in Brid, a town Ozma quickly learns to hate, her mother not only becomes more distant, but also begins to develop a completely different personality, hiding who she had been in Abal, much to Ozma’s consternation. Given their new situation, Ozma’s only companion is the ghost of constable she has bound to her.

Lady Frelix’s house contains many mysteries and Ozma slowly learns about some of them, at the same time she is masquerading as a boy. The masquerade becomes more and more real, leading to physical changes which Zilla is not around to explain, Ozma is embarrassed about, and the constable’s ghost finds humorous. While Lady Frelix originally appears as a doddering old woman, her ability to see through Ozma’s disguise is an indication that she, like Ozma and Zilla, is more than she appears.

Even if Ozma and Zilla aren’t the most appealing of character, Link’s setting is original and as she reveals more and more about the setting, it becomes more intriguing and unique.

Reviewed in its original publication in the anthology The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Viking 2007.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rich Horton

Such a great writer. You could have chosen any of a a couple of dozen stories at least, all fantastic (in multiple senses of the word).

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x