The two stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies touch on the idea of oppression and resistance, ignorance and the beginning of understanding. Both feature characters in a dominant position. People who have others bound to them in some way, enslaved against their wills. But these characters don't full understand the situation, the true depth of it, until they take the time to listen, to explore, to question the status quo that they were comfortable with. Only once that happens, only once that step is taken, can healing begin. These are two very different stories, but they are nicely paired thematically, and I will just get to reviewing them!
|Art by Raphael Lacoste
"The Aeroliths" by Stephen Case (8912 words)
This is a story of winds and magic, names and betrayals. It features a frame where a young man who has usurped a wizard and his power readers a scroll written to him by the wind, by a woman who has been trapped and bound to service. The story then plays out both in the present and the past, weaving a rather unsettling story of how the wind, the woman named Sylva, was lost. The setting of the world is definitely one of my favorite things about this piece, revealing a world where families mine boulders that are lighter than air to gift to the Emperor in hopes of one day coming out of exile. Sylva was the only daughter of one of these families and with abilities to harness the powers of the wind. It's that power that brings her to the attention of the Emperor and his brother, a Wizard. The story is filled with compelling visuals, towers that float high above the earth and are pushed by sentient clouds and winds. A wizard in search of sight and an Emperor in search of a power he cannot possess while being Emperor. It's the story of the past that dominates the tale, though there are enough glimpses at the present, where the Wizard is gone and the tower is under the control of Diogenes, to make me want to see more, to make me wonder what happens next. The story certainly touches on power and volition, how Sylva is betrayed by both Wizard and Emperor, made into a being with no freedom. And the story shows how it works in cycles, the name of the Wizard passing along with his injustice, with Sylva's imprisonment, and only when the name starts to be defeated does there seem a hope that Sylva's story will reach any sort of happy ending. It's a compelling tale, with a great sense of magic and movement and visual splendor. A good read!
"The Uncarved Heart" by Evan Dicken (5397 words)
This is an interesting story about hearts and about fates and about resistance. About love and about the lack of love. The story shows a girl growing up at the fringes of her society, as part of a group that has colonized the area, bent it to their will, enslaved the native people and forced them to work producing a powerful beverage. The girl's mother is a soldier, her father an artist, and both have hearts crafted especially for them by their masters, the Volant, the true ruling class. And the main character grows up without such a heart, free and wild and willing to spend her time with a native girl, to become close with her. To in many ways be an outsider among her own people. But she's also still of them, fed the lies of colonization about the natives and mostly doomed by those lies. I love the world building here, the strangeness of the Volant and the toxic dreams that go into making the nightwine, the substance that the Volant crave above all else. The story reveals the dangers of mindless belief in a corrupt system, the horrors that come when wome people are deemed less than people. And it is full of flawed characters. The narrator, who is still too much a colonizer to really see the horror of the situation. The father and mother, true believers in their righteousness but unable to truly ignore the pain and terror around them. Izayel, the native who the narrator becomes close with, who has to do some very unpleasant things in the name of resistance and freedom. It's a complex tale and a vividly written one, with a mix of technology and magic, blood and beauty. Especially given recent events, it's a fascinating piece, and definitely worth checking out.