The summary of “Effigy Nights” by Yoon Ha Lee:
The city/moon of Imulai Mokarengen is invaded by the general Jaian of the Burning Orb, who wore a jewel on her breastplate for every world she destroyed. The city was strong in knowledge and wealth, and offered her any wealth she desired, but she mocked them by asking for their sacred books. Seran is a surgeon-priest who is in the city while it is attacked. He is summoned by a warden, who asks him to bring a schematic to life. He obliges, after warning the warden of his curse: he exacted vengeance on a man who killed a child, and is now cursed so that anything he makes burns up in about a week. The Saint of Guns, who he originally brought to life, kills the soldiers but kills civilians in the explosions. He is cut by a splinter in the Saint of Guns’s explosion. He drinks to forget how many civilians died. The warden has him cut out one of the city’s founders, then the Mechanical Soldier, who watches Seran and eventually leaves. The people leave offerings wherever the Mechanical soldier carves cartouches into the walls. Seran waits for the warden’s summons, but none come and the city suddenly has a lot of effigies. He visits a bookstore, but finds that all the books were blank. He then goes to the South Archive, which is locked but he hires a thief-errant and gets in. He opens one of the sacred books and realizes that they are empty too. He is then caught by Jaiain and forced to lead her to where the warden is. He finds the lair full of scissors with no one controlling them, and the warden is standing sideways on the table. Jaiain confronts her, but the warden splits down the middle, revealing that she has become an effigy. Seran concludes that the warden animated the scissors, which ran out of stories to cut out so turned on her and started cutting effigies out of people. Jaiain and her soldiers are attacked by the scissors, with the assumption that the scissors will never stop cutting effigies out of people.
Acute tension: General Jaian’s invasion of the city/moon Imulai Mokarengen.
Chronic tension: the city of Imulai Mokarengen, Seran’s past (killing the man who killed the boy).
I liked this story because it shows a world and a cohesive story in 12 pages, which is an accomplishment. I highlighted details of the world and characterization, because Yoon Ha Lee does these two things very well and I want to one day write a masterpiece such as this. The details of the world took ordinary things, like candles, and made them strange, like adding the detail that they had the face of a child. There was also the warden’s kiss and the Archives at the points of the compass, which made everything seem real. The small details about Imulai Mokarengen scattered throughout the piece made it almost like a living thing, which paralleled its effigies in that they both die in the end. I highlighted characterization as well because it was interesting to see Seran’s personality portrayed by the things he carries and his reactions to the death of Imulai Mokarengen’s citizens.
It is also a point of interest that Jaiain asked for their stories, and the people wouldn’t give them to her, but the stories ended up being destroyed anyway.
Is it right for the warden to have the power to save/destroy an entire city?
Was Imulau Mokarengen right not to give Jaian its stories?
Do you think Jaian would have left if they gave her their stories?