Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #222

There’s not exactly the strongest of thematic links that I could tease out with the two stories in the latest Beneath Ceaseless Skies, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t excellent windows into fantastical worlds. The stories look at the weight of place, at long conflicts that seem unwinnable, and in how hope often comes with the newer generations. Both stories do feature people, parents, fighting for a better world for their children and at the same time needing their children to carry on the fight, and to bring the fight to a close. These are stories about sacrifices and bargains and difficult decisions, and the idea that only when everyone is free can anyone be free. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Ward Lindhout

“The Shark God’s Child” by Jonathan Edelstein (7269 words)

This story captures a lot of things I like about Beneath Ceaseless Skies. First and most, it reveals a stunning second world fantasy setting with a unique set of rules and an aesthetic that is strange and beautiful. It also captures a scope that is epic and weighty. The stakes here are for the heart and soul of the entire world, and Mei is the woman at the center of that, a refugee from an island that decided to stop being stone and return to the stars. And I just love the idea that this is a world of ocean where the land masses are all sleeping gods, who have sacrificed themselves in order to give people a home and a life. Things aren’t exactly cool everywhere, though, and some people would rather seize power and domination—over the world, over the gods—by enslaving everything to their will. It’s something that Mei finds herself circling most of her life until she is violently pulled into it and made a piece of property. But still she doesn’t give up. She has the sea running through her and part of that is a thirst for freedom, for the waves. It’s part of what she’s passed along to her daughter, and the story balances freedom and power in a rather interesting and inspiring way. [SPOILERS] And okay, I do love that the story basically cleaves to the idea that there can be no freedom unless that freedom is universal. That Mei, when she goes to try and bargain for her freedom, finds that she can’t just bargain for herself, that freedom, real freedom, is all or nothing. That consent is what should guide people, not domination. That even when the gods are stone there is still a respect that is due and a freedom that must be maintained. The story covers a lot of ground, showing how Mei moves and how ultimately it’s in seeming to give up some of her freedom that she finds it, in sacrificing something in order to preserve freedom. And really it’s a lovely and fast-paced story that’s fun and invigorating to read!

“Nightshade” by J.W. Halicks (4306 words)

This is another fun story, fittingly dark for a story that centers on shadows, but not bleak in the slightest. The setting is one of light and dark, but not of good and evil. The characters here are all on the “dark” side of things, people who are in tune with the night and who might be cold as shadows but whose hearts still beat warm and full of love. The story begins with a rather charming look at the lord of the shadows, moving about his domain, marshaling his subjects. The shadows are tinged with fear and with danger but there is a feeling that there is none of the malicious “evil” that are traditionally associated with the night. Instead, we see a people who are probably persecuted by the “paladins” because of their shadowy nature. And at the heart of this conflict is a small girl, Lyla, who has a deep affirnity for shadows. The story begins leaning on a number of expectations, or at least I had some going in, with this shadowy figure visiting Lyla’s house to see her very sick mother. To make a deal with Lyla, to have a competition for the fate of the mother. It feels in that way like a faery story, of a dark creature toying with the life of mortals, of a child in her innocence not understand the real stakes of the matter. [SPOILERS] But the story delightfully twisted my expectations and delivered a story that upended the usual game played between the night and children. Here the shadows become a comfort and a shield and the trickster turns out to be something much different. No one is quite how they seem and the real story, the one brewing in the background, is of patience and sacrifice, with all the characters waiting for a salvation they hope will ease the conflicts between the light and dark and allow a new age to begin. It’s a wonderfully subversive read and a refreshing one, bursting with hope even in an atmosphere riddled with shadows and darkness. A great story!


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