Category: Small Publisher
Sub-categories: Protagonist of Colour, LGBTQIA
“Happy birthday, child. Careful not to shoot any grundwirgen.”
Ever since she was a small girl, she has learned to be careful on the hunt, to recognize the signs that separate regular animals from human-cursed grundwirgen. To harm a grundwirgen is a crime punishable by death by the King’s decree – a fatal mistake that her Auntie Rosa and mother have carefully prepared her to avoid.
On her fifteenth birthday, when her mother is arrested and made to stand trial for grundwirgen murder, everything she thought she knew about her family and her past comes crashing down.
Auntie Rosa has always warned her about monsters. Now, she must find and confront them to save her mother, no matter the cost.
Hunting Monsters is a quick read that ties together influences from a couple of different fairytales, mainly Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast. There’s also a touch of Snow White, but that’s only used in passing. It’s hard to review this story without giving spoilers, but I’ll do my best.
While this story is told from the perspective of Xiao Hong, a teenage girl, the story really belongs to her mother, Mei, and Auntie Rosa. Auntie Rosa isn’t Xiao’s auntie per se. It’s more of a title to denote Rosa is a part of the family, through her long-term romantic relationship with Mei.
The blurb talking about Xiao having to find and confront monsters to save her mother isn’t as straightforward as one would think. This short story explores the concept of what makes a monster and touches on the moral issues surrounding killing a sentient being. Tying into that is a discussion of emotional abuse and the impact it can have on the victim. Is it wrong to kill a sentient being, even if that being is causing harm? This story raises this question, but doesn’t necessarily provide a conclusive answer.
In terms of the writing itself, the style was clean and matter-of-fact without being too detached. It was easy to read, the writing getting out of the way of the story being told. The focus here is the story, not on pretty prose or the author trying to look clever. I prefer unpretentious writing like this.
I did finish reading the story wishing it had gone on for longer, but that often happens when I read short stories.This ending was unsatisfactory by design.
Hunting Monsters is, at its core, about questions. Huang author’s note covers some of the questions she had been hoping to raise in this story: What would happen if we had beasts walking around and talking like humans? How would Little Red Riding Hood react after what happened to her as a child–what kind of woman would she grow up to be? What kinds of justice systems do the ubiquitous kingdoms have? And would it be at least as likely for common folk to fear the powers of princes and kings as it would be to grasp their hands in marriage? Are the “bad guys” really good? Or is everyone just human? Which crimes are justifiable? Which relationships will we cheer on, and which will we condemn?
Not all the questions raised are necessarily answered, but that’s not the point of this story. The point is to bring these questions into the readers’ minds in the first place and leave us in that uncomfortable place where we are forced to examine everything we thought we knew about the world.