In “Awakening,” by Judith Berman, Aleya awakes among the dead, escapes, and explores a world that has changed since she last lived. She too has changed, but she refuses to believe that she is a revenant cloaking her unholy passions with memories of life. Buffeted by the magics of a witchwoman, shaman, and the sorcerer who rules her city in life and death, Aleya is shocked that even peasants know charms and gods’ names to fling at her. She can only fight back with cunning and persuasion. The section where she wanders the dead dreams and memories of her home, and finally climbs the tower to confront the sorcerer are creepy and evocative. In the end, she finds the peace she needs in the simple pleasure of life. And yet, after going on this long, complicated journey with her, the part I find most instructive is the opening.
As I said, she wakes up. And it turns out she is dead. Isn’t this One of Those Things You Are Not Supposed To Do? Why does it work anyway?
First off, the writing is vivid and immediate, plunging you into the horror of a mound of restless dead. Secondly, the “she is dead” part is raised by a chilling question:
They must, she thought suddenly, have been walled up to stop them walking.
An instant after that terrible realization, a much fiercer panic roared down on her.
Because why else would she have been buried with them?
That got me to turn the page and keep reading. Along the way, the story held my interest, what with the various difficulties and mysteries to be solved, but in the end I found it all too easy to set down.
A competent story, but not all that memorable.
Tomorrow: Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse