Sarah Gailey’s novella Fisher of Bones (2017) is a bewildering revision of the Talmud/Old Testament Exodus story with the “Moses” role cast as a prophetess dubbed Fisher (formerly Ducky).
Fisher assumes the prophetess mantle only on her father’s deathbed when the patriarch prophet lays his hands upon her in a would-be ordination and declares her an outcast, “forever banished from [her] people.” And in the next breath commands her to lead the same. I never could get over this contradiction. This kind of launching and halting, lurching and jolting is characteristic of the entire story’s progression and it is not a device that works.
The story’s principle tension involves threats to Fisher’s authority as the prophetess to a mysterious pantheon of gods. The mutiny might make some sense given the weirdness of her ordination. But doubts are leveled at her possible inability to interpret the tablets, which function as an oracle compass for the wandering people, not at her bizarre ordination. Moreover, Fisher retains the outward visible distinction of a seer with the development of black eyes, which Gailey calls “The Sight.” It’s hard to contend against a physical sign from God. I mean, if you’re a believer, you kind of have to line up behind the miracle. None of the challenges ever build to any particular climax. Allegations hang in the air and are never resolved. Tension plummets. This reader scratches her head.
Philosophical questions arise about the function of religious piety. Piety does not, for example, care for an infant child in the middle of the night. There is some suggestion that religion might be practiced as a form of escapism. More questions are raised about the mercy of the gods in question. Fisher of Bones being a slight novella, there is no robust development of any particular theme and the questions hang in the air unsatisfied.
The world building is not very good. The wanderers traipse around in the desert, but somehow, mists seem to abound. Where does all the water come from, I wonder? Naming conventions seem very odd. No camels; yes oxen? There are enough idiosyncrasies to quite obscure the quality of the prose. The prose in Fisher of Bones is fairly clean, but not enough inducement, by itself, to persuade me to read more.