I feel like a broken record this month, but I hope you believe me when I say there have been just so many great stories from both F&SF and Asimov’s SF.
Dale Bailey hits a morbid and chilling tone in this story, an alternate history of England where the aristocracy eats human flesh once a year as a delicacy and as part of the Catholic tradition. “The Lord commands us to eat of his body. . . ” as one character puts it. But this is only done during the First Feast of each year, and it is a great honor if you are of lower rank, to be invited to a party at which “ensouled flesh” is served at the end of the meal.
Dale Bailey, I take it, must have put in some precursive research into the manner of what human flesh tastes like, as the description is excruciating, and the name has given the morsels, “stripling” makes one squirm when a character eats it. Furthermore, there is even a legal market at which lowly humans are caged and bread for tenderness. It’s all horrific.
Mrs. Breen, the protagonist is of a low order but married quite well above her station–well enough to be invited to the First Feast at the Donner residence–the talk of the town each and every year. With the friendship of Mrs. Donner, however, comes expectations not lightly shirked.
Mrs. Breen falls out of Mrs. Donner’s good graces, but things are not as they seem. As Mrs. Breen frets over her return to society and the restoration of her husband’s good name to that of the elite, a deal has been made that will surprise readers–though there are subtle signs along the way.
A wonderfully written tale of how people justify their actions over those they see as beneath them. (B+)