The first issue of 2017 from Beneath Ceaseless Skies is, well, it's not exactly the happiest of issues. Both of these stories feature protagonists thrown into situations where they aren't in control. Where they lose people important to them. And where the very worlds around them roil with chaos and conflict. And in the midst of that there are moments of compassion, of hope, only to be lost, only to be taken away. And so the stories become about how the characters cope or how the characters fail to cope. These are stories filled with trauma and the whispering of secrets, and if you're looking for happy endings, well… To the reviews!
|Art by Jinxu Du|
"Wooden Boxes Lined with the Tongues of Doves" by Claire Humphrey (3492 words)
This is a great story about secrets and brutality and ways that people hurt each other. It features a triangle of characters, William (the narrator), his uncle Sholert, and the young Miss O'Reilly. William is new to town and to the house of his uncle, who he discovers is something of a magician. At the very least, Sholert's main pastime is the collection of secrets, which are kept in boxes lined with the tongues of doves. Which is, I must, a rather striking image and idea. And I love the way that magic and that darkness infuses the story. There is a war going on in the background and William is protected by it because of his job and because of his relationship to his uncle, who is wealthy enough from his hording of secrets to keep William. The war tugs at William, though, and perhaps would draw him on except for the attentions of a certain young woman. And the story weaves these characters together, their tragedies all shared because of Sholert's jealousy and his possessiveness. He wants to control people, but even as he grasps harder at the situation he finds that it, like a dove in the hand, has cracked. Expired. Gone beyond his control. And the story does that with this wrenching emotion, shows how William changes and how everything changes, how Sholert's greed and his seeing people as things to be maneuvered ends up costing him his true desire. The time frame of the piece is a little difficult to place for me, but hardly important really. What is more central is how everyone becomes victim to Sholert's desires. How they all suffer because he was unwilling to let people around him have a happiness he didn't possess. It's an at-times uncomfortable read for that fact, and the ending shows the devastation left in the wake of that core selfishness. A fine read!
"Think of Winter" by Eleanna Castroianni (2816 words)
This is an interesting story, not least because it's style is one that I'm unused to seeing at this publication. It's told with a sort of immediacy that is compelling from the start, a sort of wounded-ness that makes the narrative full of strange meanings and possible interpretations. Which is quite fitting, seeing as how the story seems to me to primarily concern itself with divination. For Folu, the main character, that's really the only thing that is certain. The present and the future. The language of the cards. A language that she understands even as it fails to help her. The story is in some ways an examination of what it means to divine the future. To see what's coming. Because certain warnings only make sense after the events have already happened. Because certain warnings, even when interpreted early enough, still don't mean that the future can be changed. The story follows Folu as she lives a rather fragile life—fragile because she depends on what she can forage, depends on what has been left behind an abandoned cathedral. She reads the cards. Over and over again. And to me this act becomes one of trying to take control when really she hasn't had control. When really there is no control in the world she lives in. Things are in chaos. People starve and people die and people get taken away across the sea. What remains for Folu is the trying to hold onto something after her family has been taken, after her world has shrunk to the point where everyone is taken from her. It's a story to me about trauma and surviving, and in that it's a very bleak story, one that doesn't offer much hope because of the setting, because of the uncertainty and violence of it. But still it is a fascinating read with a great momentum and style to it, a language that draws on divination and a plot that tips heavily toward tragedy, though it does leave a little room at the end for something more. For the possibility of something more. A captivating story!