Favorite Short Stories of 2021

It’s that time of year, and here is the first of our year-end posts! I’ve been doing some kind of favorites list for five years now, which feels sort of unreal but is in fact reality. As always, the rules are simple: did I read it this year? Did I love it? It gets to be on the list! Anyway, without further ado, here’s a list of my favorite stories from this long, strange year. Caveat that I do not consider my short story reading habits particularly comprehensive — if you are looking for something more, consider Maria Haskins’ Short Fiction Roundup.

Daughters with Bloody Teeth” by Marika Bailey

I love stories with dogs in them. Do not ask me why this is — I do not have a dog in my family currently. But dogs are such great creatures, so anything that posits their inner lives is always a source of delight for me. This one has a fascinating and bloody magic system and a satisfying bit of vengeance at the end.

The Demon Sage’s Daughter” by Varsha Dinesh

This was published in Strange Horizons back in February, which feels worlds away. I really loved the arc of this story, the inspiration in a retelling of a tale I was less familiar with, the way a dismissed daughter takes matters into her own hands to write her own story, one that is rich and remorseless.

Cleaver, Meat, and Block” by Maria Haskins

That vengeance arc seems to be a thing this year, and very few stories are as satisfying as this one, which looks at the way that society tends to gloss over past horrors in the name of harmony and a return to “normal.”

Getaway” by Nicole Kornher-Stace

This story features a pretty unique time travel concept, which I’m always a fan of when done well. Add in Nicole’s trademark emphasis on friendship and it’s complexity and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Do Not Look Back My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow

This story was actually published in 2019, but I read it this year

Bride, Knife, Flaming Horse” by M. L. Krishnan

There is one guaranteed way to be considered for this list, and that is to make me cry, which this story succeeded in doing. A story about love and its unlikely shapes, it’s more than worth a read.

The Bear Prince” by P H Lee

When I started reading this I thought it was going to be a retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red”. It was not. It was so much better. I really loved this tale, and yes, there is a bit of a vengeance motif here, too.

The Once and Future Qadi” by Ausma Zehanat Khan

This is the opening story in the anthology Sword Stone Table, and boy does it open this collection. The story of Guinevere and Lancelot has always kind of pissed me off, and this delightful take on it clearly shows the toxicity of the tale.

Flat White” by Jessica Plummer

This is a story I can’t fully get out of my head, and you can also find it Sword Stone Table. It encapsulated so many early experiences I had with love and romance and how awful someone can be for you even if they aren’t actively malicious. Bonus points for the Arthurian references, obviously.

Six Fictions About Unicorns” by Rachael K. Jones

I think if I had to pick one story for this year, this would be it. And to be honest…that’s all I’m going to say about it. Go read it. Let it fill you with strange hope for your mortal future.

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