|Art by Reiko Murakami|
“Between the Firmaments” by JY Yang (20255 words)
No Spoilers: Bariegh is a god in a world where the gods have become a resource exploited by a colonizing people on a planetary scale. Using a special material that allows them to siphon power from divinity in order to power their empire, the blasphemers have laid the planet low, and almost nothing remains of the once huge pantheons that once populating the lands. Bariegh himself, the god of the hunt, has been living in hiding, passing as human to keep an eye on Sisi, the great grand-daughter of his favorite sister. together they work construction, and yet everything changes when Bariegh catches a glimpse of a newcomer to the city, a god who Bariegh has never met before. A glimpse is all it takes to seal to their fates, to tie them to each other, and to set in motion a series of events that will shake the world to its foundations. It’s a story that’s part romance, part resistance, and all fun. The piece moves with a heavy weight drawing it toward tragedy, toward loss and grief and death, and yet it refuses to give in, reveling in the fact that this is a story of gods, with all that can imply.
Keywords: Gods, CW- Slavery, Colonization, Exploitation, Queer MC, Bondage (of various sorts)
Review: I am 100% behind stories that can blend queer romance with giant sweeping plots of gods and empire, horror and grief. And this novella delivers, building up a world that has lost so much, where these colonizers have come in and destroyed nearly everything, enslaving pretty much the entire population to fuel their own hunger for resources, for more to power their empire and reach. Bariegh’s situation is that of a hunter who has become hunted, who now is forced to hide and bend to the will of these invaders. He’s beaten, but not precisely broken, and he’s clinging to what he can, hoping to keep some small bit of his past alive. It’s only when Sunyol shows up that he’s reminded that he also has a future. It’s still one that tastes of ash, but it’s one still worth fighting for. It’s a thrilling, tender, rending read that walks a razor wire over despair and destruction.
I also appreciate what the story does with the themes of bondage, drawing a stark divide between the forced enslavement that happens at the hands of the blasphemers and the much more consensual (and hot) bondage that happens between Bariegh and Sunyol. It’s not just sex and intimacy that sees the complicated treatment of bondage, though. Indeed, I see that idea running throughout, manifesting in the ways that people willingly submit to things that might be painful, that might be difficult. Bariegh embodies a lot of that through his choice to hide himself, to try and protect Sisi, the last thing he has of his family. And ultimately it’s also a choice that he and Sunyol make, not to run away from the broken world that has caused them mostly harm, but to submit to going back, to trying to rebuild. Which shows that bondage in that way, being tied to a place and a people, is not an ugly or traumatic thing. That it might be painful and sometimes violent, but that it’s actually about healing, about trust, about consent. And it’s just a really interesting part that runs through this story, the ways that bondage is not always evil, but rather that it must be judged based on consent compassion.
And ultimately, it’s a story that for me refuses to give into the pull of tragedy. Which is almost what the setting demands, because the characters are up against something pervasive, something huge and unstoppable. Except there are gods. In a setting where divinity is elementary, what is impossible is skewed. And I for one have no problem with the story resolving in something of a Deus Ex Machina. I mean, come on. And I think part of what I like about is not that it offers a road map that anyone else might follow, but rather that it offers a respite from the pervasive injustice that goes on every day. It’s a fantasy, and perhaps that’s a bit of a cheat, but for me it’s a needed one. Because it imagines a setting where love is enough. Where justice an be achieved. Still not easily. But for me the focus here is on the possibility of recovery. That there are no wounds that go so deep that they can’t be treated. Maybe not healed. But treated. And that recovery doesn’t need to be complete to push for something better, something beautiful. And yeah, it’s a wonderful read! Go check it out!