Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #261 [part1/2]

It’s another stuffed anniversary issue, this time from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and once again I’m breaking out my review into two parts (mostly because half the stories are being released in September and half in October). The first pair of stories are an interesting mix, one an invigorating adventure with a cat protagonist and the other a much darker and more difficult look at the ways that misogyny perpetuates tragedy. For their many differences, though, they are linked by a connection to what lurks under the surface. Under the surface of the earth, where gems and sleeping dragons lie. And under the surface of people, where reputation can seem to mean much more than what’s truly lurking in the hearts of people. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Mats Minnhagen

“Shadowdrop” by Chris Willrich (23504 words)

No Spoilers: Shadowdrop is perhaps the most powerful black cat in a city situated on the closed eye of an ancient dragon. Like all black cats (or, well, most of them at the very least), she’s gifted and cursed with the ability to cause bad luck to whoever’s path she crosses. It’s something she likes to avoid, in part because she has a rather embarrassing fondness for humans and doesn’t want them harmed. Still, cats will be cats and when the opportunity arises to do a little bit of mischief, Shadowdrop accepts, and ends up getting involved in a plot that connects to her past very directly, and could lead to the total destruction of the city. Playful and fun but with an edge of darkness, the story never fails to allow Shadowdrop’s unique catliness shine through. She’s not a human, but that doesn’t mean she’s not heroic. It just means that she acts for her own interests, in her own ways, and doesn’t back down for anyone.
Keywords: Cats, Siblings, Luck, Dragons, Awakenings
Review: I love the feel of this story, the rush of it and, well, the cats. Sue me, I’m a cat person, and getting to go into a cat’s head and experience the world through their eyes, especially a magical world where they are magically and can talk? Yes please. It’s a delightful read, and one that centers just how much fun it would be to be a cat. Given, that’s complicated by the way that Shadowdrop and her kind manipulate chance and luck, and how dangerous that can be. It’s not something that she forgets, and a good deal of her life is spent trying to avoid causing trouble. It’s a burden that she bears, but not one that’s overly oppressive. I absolutely love the way that she ends up framing it, as basically the cost of being a magic cat. To have to be careful. To have to try not to hurt people. Because that’s such a simple but powerful thing, the recognition that you have things that are good and so want to make sure you don’t come to abuse that power. It would be easy enough to do, and indeed a good deal of the plot is about other people seeking to use that power to do something (#sorrynotsorry). But seriously, it’s a wonderful read that builds up an impressively imagined world and a great cast of people and cats. The city seeps a kind of age and history, and there’s the feeling of vibrancy to it all. Some of the elements might not seem to break out from the mold of Epic Fantasy World but at the same time that seems something the story is completely okay and unashamed of. It’s a story about heroic cats and embraces the thrill of magic, the way that fantasy can be fun and freeing without being shallow. It’s a great adventure, and I love where it leaves the characters and the world. Definitely carve out some time to read this amazing novella!

“Ruby Singing” by Fran Wilde (7415 words)

No Spoilers: Mira is a girl who can hear the sounds of unbound gems. It’s a gift that comes in handy, given that her father is a jeweler, but also one that comes with something of a price. For the song of the gems is sweet as candy and pulls at her, calls her away from her sister and father and toward someplace where the gems sing loud and clear. It’s an urge that she can mostly resist, but it’s something that gives her a reputation as wild. Willful. And the piece explores what things like reputations do, and how they can help, and harm, and who, and why. It’s a story very much about voice and about silence, about freedom and about being bound. It’s dark and it’s a bit creepy, drawing on tragedy and hope, and it moves with a sort of crushing weight that’s both devastating and irresistible.
Keywords: Gems, Songs, Sisters, CW- Abuse, Transformation, Lies
Review: This is a seriously dark story, and yet one that for me has this...I hesitate to say innocent but rather an open and honest voice to it. One that isn’t holding anything back, and is seeing with a vision that cuts beneath the lies that people tell each other. That underpin the web of stories that build in towns and cities. Mira speaks from a place of knowing exactly what happening in her life and being able to point out the moments when she might have acted differently, knowing as she does the reason that she didn’t wasn’t because she was stupid or foolish or wise, but rather that the setting wouldn’t allow her to. That she was prepared to make those decisions by people who thought they were protecting her and instead were leaving her open for...well, for what happens. Because so much of this might have been avoided not if Mira hadn’t done what she did, but if the world actually valued what it claims to value. If people weren’t swayed by the biased narratives they told, by the patterns that always blame women and girls for the harms that are done to them. In the voice of the story I hear the bitterness and the sharp edge as she describes her “mistakes.” And yet her mistakes are always ones of trust. Of trusting a man who she shouldn’t have, when in all of those instances that his crime, not hers. For lying. For manipulating. For murdering. And yet it’s Mira who bears the brunt of the punishment, and who is still waiting in the end for someone to come and set her in a place where she can finally be at peace. I love the way that the gems work here, too, with this beautiful music that people want to set into a binding, that people want to admire, without ever examining what that means. It’s an unsettling and difficult read, but also a wonderful story very much worth checking out!


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