Friday, July 3, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #176

I will admit that I had completely forgotten about Beneath Ceaseless Skies until I was putting together my spreadsheet and realized that I hadn't read a second installment this month. Shame on me. Of course, I remembered and that's why I'm back looking at these two stories. The fiction is actually a little on the short side this issue, neither story topping five thousand words, which is a rarity. Still, though short the stories are quite good, and provide some interesting themes to examine. Both are dark, both deal with some morally questionable Queens, and both are nice reads. Also, with this story Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam jumps to the fore as most reviewed writer of 2015 (so far) with five reviews. So there's that, too. Anyway, to the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon


"The Girl with Golden Hair" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (4591 words)

This is a story about prophecy and expectation. About the weight of being born a certain way. The story shows Oovis, a girl born with literally golden hair, as she grows up. When she is born it is predicted that she will do a great thing, a prophecy that brings her under the scrutiny of the Queen. It's a strange kind of story, filled with starts and stops and false leads as Oovis tries to figure out what her great thing will be. When she's young it can be anything. She wants so much to live up to people's expectations of her. But she can't. Not only are there really no great things for her to be doing,  but her hair doesn't make her somehow superhuman. It only gives her a better understanding of what it is to be regular. Of course, there's nothing wrong with regular and Oovis does end up finding a way to live on her own terms, determined to live as she sees fit, not worrying about one great thing but instead concentrating on the many great things that she does and can continue to do. The story is a little odd structurally, adding in a centaur character about midway and then bouncing around, but it seems to be in service to the idea that Oovis can't seem to settle when looking for the one thing. Only by rejecting the idea that her life is only about one thing can she finally go in search of a story that will be hers from beginning to end. It's a neat idea and well told and worth reading through. Hurrah!

"Court Bindings" by Karalynn Lee (2514 words)

Well that's rather depressing. And I know, I need to do better on spoilers, so here is my warning: I will likely talk about the ending of this story. Probably. Be warned. This story follows a princess, Jinho-ya, and her guardian, as they navigate a dangerous world. The princess is heir to the throne and in constant danger, with only her guardian and her gift to protect her. Her gift being that she can bind creatures against their will. That she can make them do anything. It's something she practices on animals, mostly, though invariably her practice hurts them, often kills them. It's a gift that she refines as she gets older, as her homeland draws closer and closer to war. Become a woman grown, she disapproves of her mother's methods and believes that she would make a better queen. The story does an excellent job of capturing the complicated relationship between child and guardian and mother, between heir and servant and queen. The princess isn't evil, really—she does seem to want what is best for the throne. She just knows that she can bind people to listen to her. And the ending really is the part when the story all clicks, when the daughter becomes convinced that she needs to kill her mother to win the day. To save things. It's the thought of someone without much care for others. Who can't seem to help but see people as things to be controlled. Of course, it turns out that her mother also had the gift, a gift that she gave up to try and save her daughter, and when the princess does kill her mother and become queen, her action inadvertently dooms her. It's a nice twist at the end, brutal and depressing and really just a gutpunch moment. So yeah, maybe go check it out.

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