|Art by Jereme Peabody|
“A Tale of Woe” by P. Djèlí Clark (9009 words)
No Spoilers: Rana is a servant of the Goddess of Sorrows, which grants her the ability to take away people’s woe...or to give them more. It’s a power not to be triffled, as Rana can use her gift as a balm, as a Soother, or as a weapon. Grief and woe are complicated emotions, though, and not all those chosen by the Goddess of Sorrows make for the best of agents of balance in a world that seems hungry for pain. There’s supposed to be justice in what the Soothers do, and yet Rana’s own faith is tested as she walks among the lowly, the victims of power struggles that seems always to crush them underfoot. Rana as a character is compassionate but plagued by her own doubts and woes both old and new. Despite her hesitation to fulfill her mission, though, she’s particularly suited for what she must do, because of the doubt she’s faced, and the love she’s held. The setting is complex and wonderfully laced with unseen magic, and there’s plenty of action, emotion, betrayal, and salvation to go around.
Keywords: Sorrow, Soothing, Grief, Friendship, Betrayal, Magic
Review: So kinda like if there was a group of women Jedi who went around at the discretion of their Goddess trying to maintain balance in the world. And, just like the Jedi, this doesn’t always work out so well, because the power they possess opens them up to abusing that power. To corrupting the lessons they’ve been taught. It’s what happens with Rana’s best friend, Lika, who couldn’t get past the hurts that she endured, the injustices that they had to allow. And there’s a solid logic to Lika’s stance, a rebellion that has its foundation in reason and even justice, and yet which veers sharply away once sprouted, leaning toward violence, pain, and death. Rana is a warrior of balance, which means often having to allow sorrow to fester and spread. Which means trying to look at the “bigger picture,” even when that means not always being fair. Which means not always liking what she has to do. But she does know _what_ she has to do, and once resolved she acts with skill and certainty. I love how the story renders that, allowing her doubt and grief but also the ability to act and to act not just herself but while being aware of what she’s doing and who she’s hurting. It doesn’t make what she does easier, but then it’s not really supposed to be easy. Which seems a lesson that Lika wants to take to heart. So I feel the story is very much involved in this discussion about what justice looks like for those with power. Is it just to act, and act completely, striving for perfection even if that means subjugating people to your will? Or does it mean striving for balance, steering where possible away from the worst corruptions, the most damaging paths, but trying to influence mostly with kindness and compassion? Rana doesn’t have all the answers, and when it comes down to it there are more than words involved in the confrontation between her and Lika. She doesn’t run from force, but neither does she let it become her first or only option. And in that I just like the messy solution that it finds, never free from the weight of sorrow but also not paralyzed by it. Striving, with a goal to continue always striving for balance and healing. And it’s a fantastic read!
“The Weaver and the Snake” by Blaine Vitallo (3648 words)
No Spoilers: Reilitas is a “weaver,” someone who takes the bodies of beasts and transforms them into other objects. Practical or ornamental, simple or intricate, she works the pieces according to her wishes and the wishes of her clients, and according to her inspiration. She’s an artist, and at over a hundred years old she’s looking back over a long and successful career, thinking only of persuing what she wants to and really cementing her legacy. Only something has risen that threatens to undo everything that she’s worked so hard to create, and Reilitas is going to have to face what it means to be an artist, a creator, with no legacy, with nothing really to leave behind. Stark and slow, the piece builds to a climax that’s much more whimper than bang. It’s difficult but it also reveals what art is and what it means, at least for one artist at the end of her long journey.
Keywords: Art, Legacy, Aging, Snakes, Destruction
Review: Time, right? It makes fools of us all. Or, perhaps more accurately, it devours all things. To artist, what they do is often tied up in their desire to leave something behind. To create some sort of record that they existed and what they could do. To say, however successfully, that they were here and had something to say. Or at least had a skill they wanted to share. For Reilitas, her legacy never seemed in doubt. She was the best, and people sought our her work all over the world. She was known, and respected, and did wonderful things. Only when a giant snake named the Great Destroyer emerges and begins devouring cities, erasing her work and prompting everyone else to riot and destroy the rest of it...well, it makes her reexamine what it is she’s doing, and who she is. Because for many artists, it’s their identity that is tied up in what they do, what they create. They feel alive to the extent that their work is appreciated, and when there’s nothing left to appreciate, what happens to the artist? When all the art is lost? It’s a difficult question because it gets at people’s motivations to create. For Reilitas, it never seemed _about_ the recognition, and yet that was very much a part of her process. She worked in part knowing that her work would be valued. Knowing that she was contributing to what she would leave behind. Without that, she’s lost. And yet all doesn’t seem to be lost. Because even though all of her works have been destroyed, she takes a certain small comfort in something new that she creates. That she makes just for herself, in part (it seems to me) to reconnect with the craft that she did for so long. To affirm to herself, at least, that she has value. That she can make something. Because, in the end, nothing lasts forever. Chasing immortality is a losing game. And what you do sometimes means appreciating the fragile beauty of art. And it makes for a fine read!