"The Wild Swan" by Anne Bean (5246 words)
A take on what happens after the Swan Princess set in modern day where Ellie, the woman who freed her seven brothers from the swan curse, and Michael, the youngest of the brothers, don't really fit in with the rest of the family. Michael because he still has a swan wing for an arm, a fact that reminds everyone else what happened. He's also gay, something that the rest of the family accepts without really accepting, uses without really seeing him as a real person. Each of the other six brothers have gotten married except one who is getting married, and it's at the wedding that most of the action of the story takes place. This is a great story about family, about the ways difference is ignored, the way that scandal is covered up and forgotten about. The way anyone who acts as a reminder of the trauma is pushed aside. It's an incredibly unhealthy family dynamic, with Michael finding that Ellie is the only one he really gets along with and even then she doesn't like talking to him because she feels responsible for his wing arm. But she finds a way out of her guilt and out of the family and it's a great moment of release. Because it's true that for many people, staying with a family that is abusive like this, emotionally painful and restrictive, is not a good thing. People have a tendency to say that family is very important, but when it comes down to it, family doesn't trump people. So yes, a good story with a satisfying ending. Hurrah.
"Love Undying" by Katharine Kerr (4214 words)
A vampire story with some interesting choices, this one reads fast and action-packed. A secret government agency that keeps tabs on the supernatural threats to peace and order is tasked with tracking down a serial killer who is raping and draining children of their blood. And with that extremely grisly premise, I'm not sure exactly what to say about the story. The setting is set up nicely, the feel of it a perfect fit for Urban Fantasy, a mix of supernatural elements and governmental bureaucracy and street and blood. The characters are rather standard, the main character being a psychic with an Interpol partner Ari who is more the shoot-first type. Together they work in liaison with a police detective and get some help from an old vampire named Joshua who helps crack the case and leads them to the perp, as apparently the very visible slayings are making the vampire community uneasy. It's a rather standard setup, and is handled fairly well. If this was the beginning of a novel, I think I'd be interested enough to stick around and see what happens. For a short story, though, it's a little thin in places for me. The child rape also seemed like a bit much, though I suppose it's more "realistic" than if the children were untouched aside from their blood. And the story does give a reason for it, that the vampire was using the assaults to drain the children of their psychic energy, but I wanted more. I wanted this to be a novel that could draw these things out to make them hit more, to complicate them. The story is a nice base, a pilot episode, but it didn't win me over completely. Still, it's well written with a solid feel and a compelling setting.