Burning Girls

Veronica Schanoes
Burning Girls Cover

Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes Is Dark and Moving


Every now and then, in the midst of all the dross, you read something that moves you. Veronica Schanoes' Burning Girls is just one such story.

Set in the late 19th century, Burning Girls is about Deborah, the daughter of Polish Jews in the years after Cossacks stopped burning villages but while the threat of pogroms against Jews was still very real. While her sister is raised to follow her mother as a seamstress, Deborah is trained by her grandmother to be a witch. She uses a white magic that draws on arcane and mythical Kabbalah-like Jewish writings and beliefs. As her power grows, she learns of a demon stalking their little family. Then, one day, the long feared pogroms come for them, and they set their sights on America, to start over, to escape the violence, and to escape the demon.

Part of what I enjoyed about this fantasy (a period fantasy, maybe?) was how it felt authentic, while at the same time avoiding clichés. Sure, there's a bit of handwaivium going on, but the magic is not without a cost. Based on language and the calling on power from certain angels and names of God, Deborah uses the magic to help women, and it lends a certain sense of sympathetic feminism to it.

And yet, it's Schanoes use of pathos, rather than magic, that makes the story worth the read. They struggle, grow, hurt, and are hurt. They grow together and apart, are tossed and turned in the trends and politics of the day. With each obstacle overcome, sympathy builds until a final denouement that both surprises and moves.

Burning Girls was nominated for the 2013 Nebula in the novella category, and while it didn't win, it was a worthy nominee.