Some issues of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are all about violence and darkness. And some, like this one, are a bit more about good old fashioned adventuring. Tracking down a run-away noble. Delving into a forgotten tomb. Finding riddles in stories. Talking (and fighting) out of impossible situations. The stories here have a bit more of a "classic" feel. They're also rather hopeful tales of looking forward, of meeting adventure with a ready wit and readier sword. Time to review!
|Art by Martin Ende|
"Nothing But the Sky" by Gwendolyn Clare (8366 words)
This is a story about, well, kind of about stories and their power. Also about people's natures and how society tries to force people into the roles it's comfortable with instead of where people are most comfortable. The story stars Dorial, a trans man and flying dinosaur rider (kinda sorta), as he navigates the microagressions of being trans in the military and sent to retrieve an errant member of the royal family. It's an assignment that takes him on something of an adventure, the young woman in question seeking a way to live up to the calling inside of her and causing Dorial to have to take stock of his situation and decide if he's going to keep working for the military or choose…something different. The setting is great, a world of magic where aether is a common element that allows things to float. The world building is vibrant and alive and layered, the world as shown a place where magic is supposedly just a myth despite the great floating cities and airships. It explores a bit the distance between magic and science but mostly looks at narratives. How they can be used to sway and how the can be used to expose. Sympathies and vulnerabilities and philosophies. Dorial finds himself taken by the story that Navidha, the royal, weaves, finds in it a different sort of magic, which then takes the story to a sort of meta level when you look at how stories can be used to show people new worlds, new possibilities. It's cleverly done and I quite like the mood, the fun, and the hopeful message that I read here. Definitely go and check this one out.
"Blood Reckonings" by Alec Austin (3304 words)
Aw yeah. This story is a nice little heist tale filled with grit and cunning and no small amount of determination. Set in a world of warring papal ambitions, the action centers on Beatriz, abbess to a burned abbey, shepherd to a mostly-murdered flock. Woman with a score to settle and enough magic and ambition to make it happen. What unfolds in the story feels like just a piece of it but it's enough to get across the scope of the conflict and the personal stake that Beatriz has in it. The action is fast and fun and gripping. Blood is spilled and battle is waged and it borders on what I would call gritty. But it's also just a lot of fun, filled with interesting voices and characters and warring factions that make for a crowded but not confusing tale. And I like the way that the characters are built, how the adventuring party in some ways mirrors t he fractures in the land, the different forces vying for dominance, only by having the people care about each other the party comes across as a harmony instead of chaos and murder. Which gives them their power and their hope and their drive. They care, and they make their own miracles, which I think is a nice bit of fantasy flourish. And really, I would read more of this setting, these characters, which means that to me succeeds at what it's trying to do. A nice read!