Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk
Tordotcom, ISBN 9781250849458, November 2022
Review by Lis Carey: This story was definitely not for me.
I had bad feelings just reading the title. It telegraphs that there’s something not positive about the ending, right? And the publisher’s blurb for it cheerily states that the protagonist, Helen, sold her soul to save her brother’s life. This is accurate.
As a direct result, she and her brother are no longer on good terms, or even in contact. She also got kicked out of the magical order they belonged to because, of course, damned soul.
Then years later, her time is almost up, and she gets pulled into the investigation of Chicago’s White City Vampire, a serial killer who is apparently a demon. She doesn’t want to be involved; she has only three days left and wants to spend them with her girlfriend, Edith. Her client offers irresistible bait, though–the chance to win her soul back, and have a lifetime with Edith.
It turns out Edith has her own secret, and also the White City Vampire isn’t a demon, although they are something closely related.
Helen, Edith, and Edith’s secret start investigating the killings, the victims, and seeming bystanders who had mental breakdowns shortly after each killing. It’s what happens to those bystanders that makes the real identity of the killer even more appalling.
There’s so much I want to say about what happens here and why I dislike the story. Unfortunately, I can’t say what I want without spoilers, and it probably doesn’t matter because probably most readers, or at least enough readers for this story to have the audience that made it a Hugo Finalist, either wouldn’t agree with me, or wouldn’t care.
It is a very well-written story. It’s a good mystery, and a good romance, despite the thing that spoils the enjoyment of it for me. It doesn’t, however, have the substance and depth that made me consider “Rabbit Test” a serious candidate for my first place vote in the short story category, despite also being dark and depressing in a way that made it hard for me to read. This story is supposed to be just a fun story, and maybe it is for many, but not for me.
I received this story as part of the 2023 Hugo Voters Packet.