Tomaso da Guda chose to remember only one thing about his father: he had too many sons. The proper amount was three. With three able-bodied men, a man could plant his seed into the most important areas of Venetian life. The eldest would be trained to go into government. The next would receive some patronage from a rich merchant and be given a berth on his most profitable ship. The youngest would be given to the clergy; it was important to have a direct route into Heaven. Tomaso da Guda knew all this because his father told him these simple truths on his deathbed. Tomaso was his fourth son. He was left to float rudderless through the canals of the city.
From this inheritance, Tomaso chose the most strictly regulated routine he could think of: the army. No one pointed out to him that in times of perpetual peace, the army wasn’t particularly well-drilled. Being a soldier mostly meant spending your afternoons moving from bar to bar, trading illusions and downing alcohol to fuel the next round of more outrageous stories. Tomaso didn’t care much for the storytelling, instead choosing the quiet, dark corners that existed in every establishment. Still, he was paid well for his drinking. It gave him a modest house and the potential to spin modesty into respectability.
At the very least, he was doing better than his older brothers. The eldest had disappeared into the bowels of some prison after seeking to ban the use of magic within the city’s borders. The youngest had drowned. Even in a city like Venice, priests never learned to swim. The deepest cut was his second brother vanishing somewhere north of Egypt, along with the rest of his crew mates. As children, the two of them had banded together against the world and ran through so many cobblestoned streets that they went through shoes twice as fast as anyone else. Now Tomaso was alone, his parents dead, his brothers gone. There was no aunt or uncle to offer an understanding nod and laugh through tales of family joy, no cousin to lend a sympathetic ear. There was no one. In a way, his father was right. He had too many sons and the spare was left to soldier on alone.
‘The Glassblower’s Peace’ was originally published in 2018 in Issue #114 of Aurealis and is possibly one of my best stories so far. I know it’s possibly my wife’s favourite. It ventures into the heart of an alternative history, where Venice enjoys a prosperous peace under the protection of a magical glassblower. Now, though, cracks are emerging and a young private of the Venetian army might be the only to save the floating city from invasion. If you enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell then I would hope you’d find a lot to like in ‘The Glassblower’s Peace’.
The reason why it’s appearing in this list of 2019 stories is that it was picked to join an incredible line-up of short stories written by New Zealand writers in Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I. While I obviously have a vested interest in this book, I think what Paper Road Press and editor, Marie Hodgkinson, are doing with the Year’s Best series (Vol 2 due next year) is fantastic. The short fiction world is a disjointed old one. You get work published in various different places, with little overlap, and often stories can get lost in the churn. However, with Year’s Best, some stories have been salvaged from this fate and given an opportunity to extend their moment in the sun.
I’m thrilled that ‘The Glassblower’s Peace’ is one of those stories. It is fantastic to actually have this story out there in paperback as well.
So, I highly recommend that if you’re interested in what New Zealand speculative fiction writers have been creating recently, you check out Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I. There’s a lot of great work in this collection, book ended by two incredible stories from Octavia Cade and Andi Buchanan. Find out more, or simply just buy a copy straight away, here: