|Art by Tyler Edlin|
"The Grace of Turning Back" by Therese Arkenberg (7745 words)
I should really go back and read the stories from before I started this series of them, because here is the end of it (I think). The end of Aniver and Semira's journey and the ultimate culmination of their time together, their mission. I must say, this being only my second story I've read with these two I'm still quite a fan of it, of the way the magic works and the way the setting is built, the relationship between these two people, the sacrifices they are willing to make. This story, like the last I read with them, is not particularly the happiest, but there is a nice sense of closure and triumph, and I love the idea of the After-Bad. That Aniver is not sure any longer of whether or not his quest is worth it but is pushing on regardless, because at this point it's all he has left. The story brings to sharp light the cost of this adventure, and Aniver is not able to keep Semira from having to bear some of the burden as well, because she's just as invested, just as dedicated as he is. I quite like the relationship between the two characters, not romantic but deep and moving, both willing to give up so much for the other. In the end they both pay, and both save each other as much as they are able, their bond the thing through it all that survives, that is not completely washed away, and through that there is the chance of recovery, or moving on from their trauma and perhaps building something new instead of trying so hard to turn back mistakes. A fitting ending to what I've read of the stories starring these two, it's sad but had me smiling at the end, feeling some warm fuzzies and being quite satisfied. Good times!
"The Exile of the Eldest Son of the Family Ysanne" by Kendra Leigh Speedling (5805 words)
Well this is a fun story, a mystery full of etiquette and rank, intrigue and integrity. Aika is a guard of the Quiet, an organization tasked with keeping order, with punishing crimes and finding the truth. When her brother is sentenced to exile based on the strength of a memory of a dead woman, a memory that showed Aika’s brother as the murderer, it should be no real conflict. Aika had given herself to the truth, after all, above family, and yet something about the way her brother acts prompts her to dig a little deeper, not to accept the assurances that memories cannot be tampered with, a guiding tenant of law in the Quiet. And what she discovers leaves her with a choice, to be silent and protect the illusion of peace and justice or to take action and deal with the consequences. It’s a very nice mystery, procedural in many ways and perhaps just a little constrained by the relatively short length of the story, but still vibrant and a great examination of a complex culture, one that makes the mystery that much more tense, Aika having to navigate around not just the facts of the case but the complicated politics and etiquette. The small flourishes give the setting a deep feeling, the details about names, about using gestures to change the context of words. And the message, that the truth is more important than protecting the status quo, is satisfying, as it strikes a bit more toward the idea that if something would pervert its own ethics to protect itself, it’s not worth protecting. A strong story!