No, really. We interrupt the on-going novel to bring you “Rejoice: A Burden,” a short story by Elizabeth Inglees-Richards. Why? Because here’s the blurb—read it, and you’ll understand.
It’s the last game before Christmas and Arttu, forward for the Nor’easter ice hockey team, is having a hard time with his asthma. When his fiance is kidnapped from the teams [sic] Christmas party by Nuuttipukki, a Holiday spirit trying to punish her for using magic on people without consent, will he be able to save her, or will Nuuttipukki drag her to hell?
And to be fair, I already knew from previous research that this is a short story in a series of them that are about this particular hockey team- which is made up of werehyenas. (I don’t know if all of them are werehyenas, but I believe so.)
That’s all I knew going in. The story is supposed to be available in an anthology called Wicked Slapshots, which I assume would explain everything if you read all of it. But it’s also sold as a stand-alone and since when I got an ebook copy of Wicked Slapshots it didn’t actually contain this story, I bought just the story itself. I have no intentions at this time of reading the rest of the stories, so I’m going in blind.
It’s not a very long story, so I’m just going to break it into two parts to talk about. (There’s no chapters or even scene breaks.)
First, let me point out that the typo in the book’s blurb (a missing apostrophe) did not give me a great deal of hope for this self-published work. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the grammar is not atrocious. (There are no page numbers, but in the first 28% of the book, I’ve only found three errors. I suspect only one of them would have been noticed by an average reader*.) In fact, the writing is good at the sentence level, better, in fact, than some things that get published by big houses (looking at you, Fifty Shades).
“Rejoice: A Burden” is written in the first person, which is not my preferred POV, personally, but as long as the author sticks with it, it’s probably less irritating than the perspective jumping of other books (looking at you, Play the Man.)
The story opens with our main character, Arttu, in church on the last Sunday before Christmas. He’s apparently supposed to be preparing to play the last hockey game for his team before Christmas, but his fiancé, Anna, also sometimes known as Branna for reasons that are not entirely clear to me yet, is singing with her band at the service so he felt that was more important. This band plays “mostly loud versions of traditional music” and is of the genre “Celtic Punk” (7%). First, Celtic punk sounds totally like something I’d listen to, although perhaps more when I was younger. But second, “louder versions”? They just take ordinary songs and, what, scream them? That sounds much less interesting.
Also, I think (Br)Anna might be a werecrow? But I’m not sure?
Probably not this kind of werecrow
What I do know is that her family is apparently super Catholic and thus ignores “the magic that ran in their veins”, unlike Arttu who introduced (Br)Anna to magic in the real world.
So if they’re super Catholic, they’d be at mass, I assume, although the text doesn’t call it that. I fact checked this in roughly 60 seconds by texting a friend who, although not Catholic any more, did grow up Catholic including many years of Catholic school. (You can still tell, too, since she has the most amazingly precise handwriting.) Her response?
Uh…Catholic churches would never, ever have a secular band of any type play during Mass. Especially during the last Sunday of Advent, since the whole of Advent is kind of a big deal. So… just… no.
(We texted, so that’s word for word. Thank you Ali!) She said they might play before or after a service, but not during. I double checked and while the text is very clear on the church being full of pine and holly, it’s lacking on some other details, like anything else you’d find in a Catholic church. Except it does specifically mention that the choir is there, too (not the band, the church’s “normal choir” (10%)), so I’m thinking this is supposed to be an ordinary Advent service. But I’m also assuming that the author has never attended a Catholic mass and is basically describing one that’s some flavor of protestant.
I hope that the hockey in this text is more believable than the church service. (And yes, I know I’m getting bothered about a detail in a book about werehyenas, but the only way that paranormal books work, in my opinion, is if all the other details work properly, too.)
At any rate, Arttu just flew back from a game in Georgia (back to where, I’m not sure. Somewhere in New England) and he’s tired and is talking with (Br)Anna’s grandmother during the music, which is, in my opinion, frankly rude. He’s all “No! I won’t go home and nap until I hear her sing!” and then proceeds to gab through the song? Pfft.
During this conversation, the grandmother reveals that she knows that Arttu isn’t Christian—apparently this was something that the couple had decided not to share with (Br)Anna’s super-Catholic family. That strikes me as odd. I mean, I get not making a big deal out of it, not proselytizing about Arttu’s belief in “gods that live in the forest” (13%), and doing one’s best to keep her family from evangelizing at him, but to not reveal it seems deceitful.
So let’s talk about this “Celtic Punk”/”loud versions of traditional music” band…. (Br)Anna wears a pink dress and the four men wear purple ties, for reasons that are apparently important but not important enough for Arttu to remember. They begin with the song “Gaudete” and the text includes the first two lines:
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
(Translation: Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!)
This is actually a piece of music I know as done by the band Steeleye Span, so now it’s stuck in my head. At least it’s seasonally appropriate. You can hear the Steeleye version here. It even has four men and a woman singing it.
After that, the words were repeated with Branna’s voice lifted and falling and soaring over the others like a bird. She told me that this song about rejoicing at Christmas was called a burden. I remembered because I found it cool in an ironic sort of way. (10%)
That would actually not be the correct definition of the term “burden” – even ironically. A burden in music is a repeated refrain.** “Gaudete” has a burden, in other words, but it isn’t a burden.
I frown at this. I frown a lot at this. If you’re going to use “Rejoice: A Burden” as your story’s title, get the definition right. Harrumph! I need to move to the next point because it’s important, but you’re on notice, story.
It turns out that (Br)Anna’s singing is magic. When she sings, her voice projects her will. So when she’s singing that everyone should rejoice, everyone in the church who hears her is commanded to, well, be happy. The text points out that this is against the belief of modern pagans—forcing your will on someone else—but that (Br)Anna didn’t grow up pagan (super-Catholic, in fact!), and that (Br)Anna thought of it as more a “suggestion” than a command.
I wished she wouldn’t blanket a crowd with whatever emotion she thought they should feel, but I loved her and wouldn’t force her to stop doing something she thought of as harmless (13%).
Arttu, I’m side-eyeing you so hard right now. There are tons of things that someone can do that’s harmful (to themselves or others) that they might think of as “harmless” and it’s because you love someone that you should convince them to stop if you can. And normally I’m thinking about things like smoking, or video-game addiction, things that only harm the user. (Br)Anna is essentially mind-controlling anyone who hears her and I don’t care that she points out later that she’s not “going out there and becoming some sort of rock star” (19%). Something isn’t really less wrong just because it’s on a smaller scale. I mean, sure, I guess if you’re going to get technical it’s slightly more ethical to mind-control a church full of people instead of an arena full of people, but only in the same way that a single murder is more ethical than mass murder.
Arttu leaves before the church service is over so that he can take his pre-game nap. (Br)Anna joins him at home. One thing I didn’t mention in the first part is that Arttu has terrible allergies three times a year (“fall, spring blooming and right at Christmas” 7%). Not only was he tired from playing/flying when he gets to church, he’s also allergic to pine, holly, flowers, and incense, all of which cover the church and get to him despite his preemptive antihistamine use. So when (Br)Anna comes home he’s sneezing and then gets a nosebleed. (This? This is all very familiar to me. I don’t know that anyone can actually be allergic to holly, but all the rest I believe. And my own allergies tend to act up at the same times that Arttu’s do, except that as a kid that essentially meant all the time periods ran together and made me sick from October until May. I wonder if werehyenas, if indeed Arttu is a werehyena, can get allergy shots? That’s what helped me.)
(Br)Anna gives him a face massage and tells him to use his inhaler before the game, which Arttu thinks is odd as he hasn’t had an asthma attack since September.
…when I’d stood in the dusty ruins of our arena. I wasn’t the only one either. Before that, my last attack had been over two years ago (22%)
First, if it’s December and his last asthma attack was September, I would think that yeah, he’d keep his inhaler around; it hasn’t been years since the last attack. Second, an editor would have suggested an author clarify what in the world “I wasn’t the only one either” means. He wasn’t the only one having an asthma attack in the dusty ruins? What kind of a hockey team is this? Are werehyenas (if indeed Arttu is one) particularly prone to asthma? I mean, breathing in dusty ruins doesn’t sound healthy, admittedly, but for everyone to have asthma attacks seems unlikely. If it’s in reference to not being the only one standing there, well, so what? That’s irrelevant to this particular bit of description.
I am now totally picturing werehyenas in hyena form but in hockey gear all having asthma attacks in the “dusty ruins of [their] arena” because of course I am.
So let’s talk about what the text has revealed thus far about this hockey team, which isn’t much. The team is the Nahant Nor’easters and they play in the Pan-Am Hockey League. (Before you go googling, let me save you the trouble. There’s no such thing. The closest you’ll find is the Pan-Am Hockey Federation, which is field hockey.) Clearly it’s meant to be a pretty big league, since the team flies to other team’s arenas for games. (Which the NHL does as well, of course, but which the next biggest league, the AHL, does not. Those players use busses.) Arttu also describes the Pan-Am has having “luxury” (22%) but it’s unclear as to what that’s to mean.
The Nor’easters have been playing in a “community arena” until the league decides what to do—what with something having caused their previous arena to be left in “dusty ruins”. I’m sure another story about the Nor’easters would explain what caused this destruction, but this text has not so far. Arttu is stressed that the league might move the team or fold it and portion players off to other teams, which is certainly logical and which would definitely be stressful.
Arttu gets to the rink and hangs out with the goalie, Vále, “a fellow Finn with a Swedish first name,” his best friend who is also a werewolf and named after Loki. I’m beginning to think the werehyenas are a myth.
Vále beat me to the rink and I found him pacing around in the full body long underwear that we all wore under our pads and uniform. (25%)
This team is weird, man. Full body long underwear? I’m totally picturing those red flannel jobs with the footies and buttflaps.
Yes, hockey players were clothes under their pads and uniforms and not, like, dockers and a polo shirt. But if you watch interviews with players after games (even on tv I mean, the NHLers) they all wear different things. Often it’s a t-shirt. Chris Higgins (of the Vancouver Canucks) apparently prefers to not wear anything under his pads/jersey. There is proof, and if you like to see very good abs, click here. That’s my other Christmas present to you. ;)
Other players were compression shirts and pants. Some wear pants specifically made for hockey that have these Velcro sections where you can hook your hockey socks although I’ll be honest here that I’m not sure how that works with the kind of hockey socks that NHLers wear, which are made of jersey material instead of knits.
My point is, the undergarments aren’t standard issue. And as far as I know, no one wears long underwear—which would be way too warm—and none of the options are a grownup onesie. I mean, as Ali asks, how would they fit the footie part in the skates?
The werewolf goalie tells Arrtu to use his inhaler because apparently he can hear our asthmatic’s breath even though he himself at the moment isn’t feeling a problem. Apparently using the inhaler and giving it to a trainer is a good idea, however, since during this, the only game in the story, Arttu gets elbowed and ends up unable to breath. He gets off-ice and heads for the locker room, where a trainer—despite having his inhaler—gives him a “cup the size of a large shot glass” (31%).
The heat spread through me as fast as the taste of liquorish and wormwood.
“Absinthe?” I gasped, but I could feel that my lungs were starting to work again.
“No,” the trainer told me. “Well, yes, but only partly. It’s a family recipe” (31%).
Um. First, yes, “liquorish.”
That word does not mean what the author thinks. First, I suspect it’s supposed to be “licorice” which is something you can actually, y’know, taste. On the other hand, it could be tasting sort of like liquor, so, liquor-ish, I guess, except that’s not a word. Liquorish is a word, but it means lecherous, and, in later use, eager for food or alcohol. Either way? Not something that can be tasted.
Second, what the hell, trainer? Giving booze to a player during a game? (He gets this same concoction during every intermission to the point of feeling it by game’s end). That seems like a terrible idea and also not something that would happen.
At any rate, the game ends by going to the shoot-out but the Nor’easters win because their goalie is a werewolf and therefore impossible to beat as long as he can see the puck.
This story makes me grumpy. Join me next time when we head to the team party.
*Average here probably means something closer to “well-adjusted” and is not meant to be a negative. Keep in mind that I have spent many years teaching composition and proofreading for an ebook company. I’m trained to see typos and grammar errors. And I did find a lot more of them in the second half of the book, but they’re all typo type things instead of truly atrocious grammar. It’s still annoying, but at least everything is understandable. My favorite is that apparently napping with someone else in the car is “next to imposable” (34%).
**It can also be the bass sound of an instrument that has a drone, like bagpipes.