Thursday, October 25, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #262 [part 2/2]

I think this is it for this year’s anniversary shenanigans from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with another two novelettes that explore corruption and tragedy, friendship and betrayal. And really, I think the pair do a great job of examining where friendships can fracture and break apart. They show the great pressure that comes from people growing and living and trying to pursue their dreams amid cruelty and corruption and violence. Tyranny and war. They show two pairs of women who begin the closest of friends, so hopeful of what the future will bring, and then follows the trajectory down into despair, into hurt, into betrayal. It’s a difficult issue, but very much worth grappling with. To the reviews!

Art by Mats Minnhagen

“The Crow Knight” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (11407 words)

No Spoilers: Ser Mearwynn (Wynn for short) is a knight in the service or a rather cruel king, and yet as she grows she becomes best friends with Lady Loreen, the king’s daughter—something that the king himself is not exactly happy about. And together the two of them are followed by a crow that neither can kill, that no one really seems to acknowledge, though it’s obvious that everyone knows about it. The crow brings a constant fear, and it weighs on both of them until the king decides to kill two birds with one stone (I couldn’t resist) by offering his daughter to the man who can retrieve a knife capable of killing the creature. Secretly, though, Loreen and Wynn make plans of their own. The piece is certainly touched by tragedy and trauma, a sort of personal history told looking back, tinged with sorrow and nostalgia but also a distance that has come to the storyteller with age and experience. It’s persistent and evokes something of fairy tales with its magic and doomed princesses and knights trying their best to do the right thing.
Keywords: Crows, Loss, Friendship, Quests, Queer MC
Review: I love that there’s nothing easy about this story. Wynn and Loreen might become friends fairly quickly, but their bond seems strong because of their shared griefs, because they are both trapped by expectation and the power of the king, who knows he has that power and is not about to either let go or not exercise it. In that environment, things are bound to get a bit twisted. A bit hurt. And to me I think the thing that stands out most is how the story handles the characters desires—their greatest desires. For Loreen, it’s to be queen. To rule without the need of a man. And for Wynn...well, it’s never exactly said but it’s kinda obvious that she loves Loreen as perhaps she shouldn’t. And she seems to be harboring some feelings. To me, at least, the crow is there because of this desire, and for both women...that goal isn’t exactly possible. Because of the world they live in, their desires are impossible, and because of that, there’s a tragedy that follows them. For Wynn, though, it’s something that she’s able to confront more because she gets help, because she is taught and teaches herself how to move on. Never really fully healing from that first heartbreak, but at least moving forward with her life and feeling fulfilled in what she does. For Loreen, things are quite so rosy. And I like that it shows the different ways people can approach grief and longing and frustration. Loreen gets what she wants most, and yet finds that it’s not exactly what she wanted. And something of that poisons her. Or at least quickens the poison that living in a corrupt situation brings. Because where Wynn devotes herself to accepting what she cannot change, Loreen doesn’t have that same training, is more used to getting what she wants, and so when things don’t go to plan...well, it’s not pretty. And ahh, it’s also so loaded and good, a mix of lies and truths and hopes and despairs, hurts and betrayals and perspectives. There’s so much to read into in this story, so many intentions to interrogate, and I very much suggest doing just that. A wonderful piece very much worth checking out!

“The Tragedy of Zayred the Splendid” by Grace Seybold (8850 words)

No Spoilers: Zayred the Splendid is dead. And yet for a sufficiently powerful war-bard, as she was, death isn’t necessarily the finality that some might expect. Because she’s pulled herself, and someone she thought of as a very close friend, into a sort of competition. Into a battle of songs and stories over how Zayred will be remembered. And while the rules seem simple, the result is anything but. The story is interesting and layered, building up a series of lies about what happened surrounding Zayred’s real death in order to try and shape a narrative. In order to try and sway people. For Zayred, it’s a kind of revenge, but also a way to follow through on something she couldn’t achieve in her lifetime, and it makes for a somewhat sorrowful piece about the power of narratives and the regrets of death.
Keywords: Stories, Death, War, Curses, Spirits, Competitions
Review: There’s such a feeling of loss in this story. Lost chances, leading to a tragedy that could have been avoided if only. And yet the world of the piece is filled with those if onlys, in part because of a war that has been going on for generations now, and one that doesn’t show signs of letting up. The piece shows that in a place where corruption is getting worse, the weight of trying to shift the narrative, of trying to stop the killing and the loss, is monumental. Is more than just one person can manage. And yet Zayred, for all that she was trying to do a good thing, was also determined to act on her own, to try and be the hero of the story. And so kind of doomed herself to defeat. Because whatever the narrative that she crafts out of her death, she could have done more alive. And I just love how the story gets there, slowly building up the “true” story of what happened through these series of lies and interpretations. And how, ultimately, it also tears that down, because in the end it’s, it’s war. It’s betrayals. It’s corruption. And if only they had talked more, trusted more...and instead they are left with regrets and death, which is all that corruption breeds. It’s a story, to me, about the weight of narrative, and the need, the need, to lift that weight through cooperation. Through the strength of many instead of one. And in that it’s a beautiful, haunting, fantastic read!


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