“Root of the Spark” by Michele Fogal
Title: Root of the Spark
Series: A Wild Seed Novel
Author: Michele Fogal
Genre: Nonbinary Fantasy
Publisher: Loose Id
Dell doesn’t want to hide anymore. As the first hermaphrodite on the human colony planet of Ameliaura, Dell has spent the last year trying to blend into the crowd. Dell used to snub the public eye with flamboyance and scandal, but lately the attention just feels like loneliness. After surviving a vicious attack, Dell falls into the arms of Zavvy, a man who has made it his mission to help abandoned hermaphrodite children.
Zavvy has been alone for years. No one can understand why he’s given up everything to take in street children and any hope of romance is out the window. Until Dell. Found naked and bleeding by the kids, Dell fulfills Zavvy’s every youthful fantasy of the City’s unashamed exotic night life.
The needs of an impromptu orphanage leave little room for a relationship, but harder still, Dell’s past has come back with a vengeance. Dell will have to step into the light again to fight for a home before the age old tide of violence rises again.
One of my favorite books of the year: A delicious scifi/fantasy read for those who love alien worlds, and it’s a beautifully worded character novel for those who love unique literary fiction!
At first glance, Root of the Spark is two separate stories set in the same world, where it’s not clear if the stories take place at the same time. In one story, we have Dell, a hermaphrodite who is originally from another part of the world where per (preferred pronoun) currently lives. In per society, per gender is unique but respected. Per has two sets of functioning gonads and a primal magical power associated with per birthright. Currently, per works as an actress or performer of sorts, and has a small measure of fame and fortune.
But that doesn’t keep a group of thugs from assaulting per on the outskirts of an impoverished neighborhood. Zavvy, a man who fosters dozens of hermaphrodite children, finds Dell and brings per to his house, where he nurses per back to health. After his rescue attempt, Dell realizes per duty to him and the children, and they work to make their world a better place.
Our second story seems as far removed from the previous story as you could possibly get. Ledder is a criminal and an alcoholic and is solely responsible for destroying the safety and trust of his family. He is sent to the Loam, a sentient subterranean fungal lifeform, where he will carry out his sentence. The only staff member in this entire facility, besides some of the more recovered inmates, or patients, is Acorn, the sentient life of the Loam. Per is also nonbinary (being fungus), and can shape per body to the needs of pers inhabitants. Per feeds them, creates rooms in the Loam for them, etc. Acorn also uses cognitive therapy and memories from pers patients to help rehabilitate the criminals. In some cases, there are people with too great of a disease to overcome, so per will keep them happy and sedated in whatever dream reality they choose until their expiration. We aren’t certain why Acorn chooses this work, but we know per’s tied to the earth and its creatures in some significant way, probably as old as the world itself.
Ledder isn’t much of a guy. He doesn’t want to be in the Loam, he doesn’t want to be rehabilitated, and he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Through careful therapy, Acorn leads him to the truth about himself, and that violence begets violence.
Eventually the stories merge into a beautiful message about acceptance and peace. Not only was I incredibly awed with the various life forms and characters in the story, but I simply loved the science fiction elements. I loved the Loam, I loved this unique take on regressive dream therapy, and I loved the hermaphroditic gender and culture around it.
I don’t believe I’ve read anything quite like this before. Five stars! Enjoy!
Review originally posted to Queer Sci Fi. Link at top.