Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #241

With its last issue of the year, Beneath Ceaseless Skies delivers two very dark fantasy stories about expectations and rules, curses and sacrifices. In both characters find themselves playing out roles that have been laid out for them, having to find ways to exist in stifling situations. In both, the main characters must contend with the weight of tradition and expectation. In both, the main characters are faced with strong willed women who want to change things. Who want to break the Rules. And in both stories the main characters have to face what the world is like, what their life might be like, should those Rules shatter. It’s an interesting issue that asks some very difficult questions and reveals some visceral hurts. To the reviews!

Art by Dimitrije Miljus


“Trette’s Bones” by Grace Seybold (8164 words)

This is a lovely and yet rather difficult story about siblings, about sisters, and about Rules. For me, at least, it’s about the way that people are shaped by the rules that govern their lives, their societies, here rendered as literal Rules that define the territory of the lives of the main character and her sister, Trette. Their world is one of necessary sacrifice, where they must give up bones in order to keep their town isolated from the rest of the world, protected and yet not accepting of variation from the way things are. For the main character, this is a bit annoying but mostly okay. For Trette, who seems to have something to prove, to have some inner motivation that pushes to ask difficult and perhaps dangerous questions, the Rules are made to be broken, or maybe bent. And yet as the story progresses I got the feeling that it was the main character who was able to subvert more, to gain more freedom, not because she had the greater drive to be different, but because she had the greater willingness to sidestep the Rules entirely, whereas Trette felt the need to win the game by the Rules, which has a tendency to draw much more attention. And I like how the story frames that, even the main character misunderstanding Trette’s nature as “showy” not because of what she did but because of the attention it brought. And yet it was Trette who prompted the main character to go and seek her fortune, to get out from the stifling atmosphere of the town. I love how the story shows this strain between the characters as not just about the ways that siblings hurt and betray each other, but how they love each other, too, Trette perhaps intentionally pushing the main character away so that each can do their work apart, knowing that if they were together their care might spoil what each was better suited to do. It’s a bit of a heartbreaking story, full of storm and stress, but there’s a tenderness to it, too, a sense of confession and forgiveness, love and hate and everything in between. Family, in other words. And it’s a great read!

“Forever Night” by Dana Beehr (6998 words)

This is a strange but darkly compelling story about curses and strength, about compassion and sacrifice. The story follows Tomas as he recreates an old quest with Elseir, the granddaughter of the woman who sealed away the Forever Night but whose descendants were cursed as a result, to darken and rot. This new Elseir is headed to the heart of the Forever night just as her grandmother did, and with her goes Tomas, the great-grandson of one of the men who accompanied the original Elseir. They are the only two that go, though, the only two that pierce the dark and make for the stronghold of the Forever Night, which Tomas believes is breaking free again. What’s really going on is much darker than that, though, and the story does a wonderful job, I think, of exploring the nature of these quests, the expectations that surround them and the what success looks like by them. The story spends a lot of time examining Tomas’ feelings with regards to the mission, the quest, and his worries that he won’t be strong or brave enough. And I like how that is framed, how it reveals the way he’s expected to act. As a fighter, a warrior. And yet that doesn’t really suit him. And I feel that what the story does instead of leaning into that expectation, is wonderfully subversive and bold, flipping so much of the script so that the story isn’t so much about how brave he is, how important he is, how he must kill a woman in order to aave the world and how hard that must be for him. Instead the story seems to demand the audience look at how we weigh life and suffering, and how we judge people for what they do or try to undo. The story shifts the focus away from the horror of what’s happening in many ways and to a different place. For me, at least, it does become about compassion and sympathy, about the ways that Tomas embraces what makes him strong. Not his ability to kill but his ability to be moved by the pain of another. Because that is so important, because there are some things people shouldn’t be asked to endure just because. And It’s an interesting and moving twisting of so many fantasy tropes. Which makes it, to me, a great read that you should spend some time with!


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