|Art by Flavio Bolla|
The second Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of January brings with it two stories about war and conflict and the women, reaching for each other, who are pulled apart by conflict, death, and grief. It follows two women in two very different situations, but both of them hurt by war, by what it has taken from them. And they both have to figure out what to do and where to go when what was familiar and relatively safe for them is taken away. Is made not an option. And it leaves them struggling to snatch something back from the jaws of war, from the gravity of sorrow. So let’s get to the reviews!
“To Stab with a Rose, to Love with a Knife” by Natalia Theodoridou (2089 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a refugee from Olvira, a place between two larger countries that often have conflict with each other. It’s a place where love and wounding share a rather intimate bond, and where people move from love to love as they heal and change. There’s a whole series of rituals and complexities to the relationships there, and yet for the narrator they seem so simple when compared to the customs of the place they’ve fled to. Of the place they’ve had to flee to because their home was destroyed by a war Olvira didn’t even have a hand in. And there is the feeling of longing and loss that carries from that, a deep sadness in the narrator and a frustration that what had been familiar to them has been taken away. And what has been offered in that absence doesn’t carry the same color or vibrancy, and seems to leave them no place to live and love and be.
Keywords: Customs, War, Roses, Knives, Queer MC, Refugees
Review: I love the almost draining feel of this story, the...woundedness of it. How it treats with the idea of roses and knives and wounds. How love here is conceptualized as a wound, a way of being hurt, and it’s only after the wound heals that the love has run its course. It layers so well with so much of what the story does, with the narrator and their desire for their coworker Labrina, for instance, as well as for their longing and love of their lost homeland. And that’s something that really comes through in the text for me, that the narrator is deeply wounded by what has happened with Olvira. That they carry not a physical wound but a mental and emotional one that pulls at them because it means that their love for their home has not run its course, and there’s something unnatural for them to think of anywhere else as home so long as they are wounded. Doubly unnatural because they are supposed to be able to move on, are supposed to be able to be wounded by a new place in order to love it, and yet this trauma has shattered the equilibrium of their desires. They have been shaken and don’t know how to navigate in a new place with new customs and ideas about love that are tinged with hate and fear. It’s such a fragile piece, full of longing that isn’t returned, love that bleeds from the narrator as they try and do more than simply survive. It pulls them to a place where they have to start building up their own customs without the familiar and comforting context of their home. Where they have to decide how they are to live, and love, when they’re not sure they understand those words outside of the lost Olvira. And yeah, it’s a fantastic read!
“Do Not Look Back, My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow (5994 words)
No Spoilers: Eefa is the husband of one of the greatest warriors of the empire, Talaan, who’s entire life has been about service and honor and combat. Her entire life except for a part she hides away, and shares only with Eefa. Eefa is a healer in an empire always reaching for war and conflict. She wants to protect her children and her wife from the hungry maw of war, but given how little she is valued in a society so geared toward bloodshed, she has little say in the matter. And, for all that she hates what the empire is and does, she cannot hate her wife. The piece is complex and filled with a deep frustration with how things are, with a place and time when killing is valued more than healing. And at it’s core it’s a story about relationships, about parenting, about wanting more than anything to stop feeding a cycle that only takes and takes and takes.
Keywords: War, CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Queer MC, Loss, Empires, Marriage
Review: A lot of this piece speaks to me of cycles, and I love the way that it’s portrayed, where war is a grinding wheel that the emperor keeps on throwing people into, reaping the benefits and wealth but never satisfied. Always reaching farther and farther. For Eefa, who is a student of peace, a worshiper of life, it is a burden that asks far too much. That requires her to send her wife off to war time and again and prepare child after child for a life of battle and conquest. And most of their children do take to it, embrace it. They want to be a part of the glory of the empire, which Eefa is disillusioned about and Talaan can’t bring herself to resist. Which, of course, is setting the stage nicely for tragedy. For something to give. Because of course when everything goes smooth it’s hard to push back against it. But when it does, when even Talaan has to face that the price the empire demands is too high, well... The piece is emotionally powerful, and I love the way that it builds this relationship between Talaan and Eefa, between death and life, showing that they can work in harmony but that in the world they’re living in things have become dangerously out of balance. And I like that in the face of that the two women do end up having to decide what to do, in a way that they can both be true to themselves. And that I think is where the tragedy really unfolds, that this is a situation there’s really no winning in a way that they can be together and happy. But it’s also a situation they helped create, and they know that to do right by the following generations, it has to be them to dismantle it and burn it down, so that, hopefully, something better can grow in the wake of that fire. And it’s beautifully rendered, both tender and devastating, and I very much recommend giving it a read!