|Art by Tyler Edlin|
“A Martyr’s Art” by J.P. Sullivan (9206 words)
No Spoilers: Chalcedony is a Martyr, chosen by a dead god to have the ability to take on the wounds or ailments of others, up to and including their deaths. It’s something that’s carefully controlled, with the rich and powerful getting a Martyr in exchange for security for the Martyr’s family. For Chalcedony, a former pit fighter, it means that her brother can go to a prestigious academy, but she has to serve a man who is cruel to her and takes her life for granted, making her take on his wounds down to his hangovers. When a ship of his gets impounded, though, it sets off a string of events that could send the whole city into chaos. And, of course, it puts Chalcedony right in the middle of the mess, with plots within plots swirling around her. Tightly paced and with a deep world building, the story works in themes of freedom, harm, and choice.
Keywords: Wounds, Martyrs, Poisons, Duels, Siblings, Gods, CW- Slurs
Review: I like the way that the Martyrs work in this story, that they can take wounds and other ailments but ultimately don’t have much freedom. They are controlled by a religion that sees no harm in the rich using them for personal profit. Which for me speaks quite clearly to how this would go, where Martyrs tend to come from the poorer people and are used up as a resource. Chalcedony is no stranger to this, but she does have a hope of rising out of it, of helping her brother into a better life and maybe, perhaps, not dying herself. At least not for the abusive asshole she’s working for currently. There aren’t, however, an abundance of nice people in the story, which borders on rather grim and gritty (which I don’t mind though there is some language that’s probably worth a content warning). Still, it’s more of an action adventure with political moments, where Chalcedony has to navigate a very complicated situation with her hands mostly tied because she’s expected to just accept the decisions of others. And that is where I feel the story makes a lot of its statement, in showing how the Martyr’s are shown as supposed to accept the demands on them because of religion, when really it’s power and money that dictate who is saved and who is not. And Chalcedony, ultimately, sees that in such a situation sometimes the best that can be done is to wield that same power in better ways. Might for right, essentially, is sometimes the most practical way forward. And it’s a fun and thrilling adventure and a fine read!
“A Circle of Steel and Bone” by R.K. Duncan (7614 words)
No Spoilers: Meinrad is a Christian knight in command of a fortress in what is supposed to be a fairly peaceful land. One where the locals have mostly been converted to Christianity and otherwise done with open fighting, though many of the other knights under Meinrad don’t seem to believe it and want more violence, more slaughter. It’s the knights, though, that have to deal with grisly murder when one of their own is found dead. And as the mystery of what happened to him deepens, the situation in the fort and surrounding village goes from bad to worse. The piece captures a feel of exhaustion, Meinrad older and wanting to be done with battle and horrors but pulled back in by this new threat. It’s interesting and slowly builds up its horror, which arrives with plenty of pomp and circumstance...and blood and gore.
Keywords: Crusades, Religion, Monsters, Wood, Smoke, Murder, Mysteries
Review: The story begins as a sort of historical murder mystery, with Meinrad cast as thr reluctant detective (with much more detective-y Ratibor playing the helpful assistant). And I like the feel of Meinrad, old and tired and just serving out the last of his use in a place that’s supposed to be peaceful. Only it turns out that this campaign to bring Christianity to the world has woken something that had long been kept trapped. So as the mystery progresses, the piece takes on a more supernatural feel, where the killer definitely isn’t a regular person. And once that part of the story really gets going, the mood shifts. Before then, the focus is on age and on the precarious hold that Meinrad has on the situation. On his men, many of whom want blood, want to enjoy in despoiling the locals. And he wants to live up to the ideals of his faith. Only it becomes obvious that there’s no real way of avoiding the ways that his faith has impacted this place. The violence of it, the way it tries to suppress the local faiths. The local superstitions. Except, of course, that not everything turns out to be strictly fantasy. And by not respecting the locals and their stories, by stripping them of their wealth, the knights accidentally unleash their own destruction. The fighting is tense and action-packed and well rendered. And again, the feeling of tiredness, of exhaustion, is captured well, following Meinrad as he slowly realizes what he has to do, what defeating this creature will take. And it’s a creepy and great read!