Friday, November 20, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #186

This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies features a pair of stories that show just how unjust the world can be to those that lack power and favor, either from the Divine or from the more terrestrial powers that be. First is a return to an Italy in danger of being overrun by creatures of the night, followed by a story of a pair of sculptors trying to make good on a promise to a volatile Empress. Both tales highlight ways that those with power act, and learn, at the expense of those that live beneath them. In the first, the relationship is parasitic, a group literally sucking the blood of those lower. In the second, the relationship is much more subtle, and yet much more devastating. So to the reviews!


"Holy Water, Holy Blood" by Bruce McAllister (8152 words)

Ah, back to the world where the Blood Drinkers are threatening Italy and indeed all of Christendom and a boy-Pope, an Emissary, and a dog are all that stand in the way of evil. This story actually goes back to the beginning of the story that has been slowly unfolding in installments at BCS. Here we get to see the Emissary, Emilio, get given his mission and start out with his faithful dog Stappo. Stappo remains a crowd favorite, adorable and indomitable and the story does a nice job of showing how Emilio and Bonifacio, the boy Pope, meet and join forces. There is a nice amount of magic and suspense, but I do understand why this installment was held back a bit, because it's a bit slower and just fits a bit better after already knowing a bit about the characters, already getting a taste for what's at stake. In that fashion the reader can feel a bit more informed than the characters themselves at this point, knowing how at least some of their journey progresses. And as the threat facing Emilio is not exactly clear in this story, left as a vague conspiracy and dark presence, only visible once and then gone, it manages to flesh out the world and provide an entertaining tale with bogging everything down with exposition. The voice of the characters is still nicely balanced, and the story does illuminate a few things that had been murky to this point. All in all, it's a nice addition to the setting and story cycle, and gives Stappo a few great moments, and makes me excited to see the story progress again. Indeed.

"The Guardian's Head" by Tamara Vardomskaya (5708 words)

Well okay then. This is the much darker story of the two this issue, despite that the other story is about vampires and attacks in the night and this one is about sculpting. But the story is also about seeing beauty, and being blind to those who are made invisible by money and power. Being blind to the full scope of humanity, and letting that lead to tragedy. Valuing art and architecture ahead of people. The story is at one level a rush of artistic freedom, a woman sculpture named Lumarine gaining confidence in herself, the confidence to create a sculpture that will hold back the floods in a city built on the bones of its builders, a city built out of stubborn pride and haughty superiority, but one filled now with life. Inside the city art is flourishing, and Lumarine wants to protect it, to create a guardian of it. And she does, a guardian to fit the feel of the city, the Empress who had commissioned it. And yet what Lumarine fails to do it truly capture what is important, and because she acts, and acts with the naivety of youth, she errs. And her error costs so much. It's a haunting tale, one about a hard lesson and yet not, because making about Lumarine's lesson would erase the true horror of what happened. Would be to fall into the same trap that she did. The story is complex and layered and beautifully rendered, a story about art and power and blindness. An excellent read!

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