Monday, March 4, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #272

Art by Flavio Bolla
The two stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are linked by water, by characters who find being submerged to be more natural than being on land. Who are not afraid of the dark and deep. But who are also not free. Who have to live on the demands of others, bound to service that they don’t exactly understand. And they both want freedom, though of different sorts. And when the time comes where it’s within their grasps, they have to make the decision of if they will reach for it, and how. The pieces are very different in tone and style, but both are intense and satisfying reads and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“When Sirens Sing of Roses and of Delegated Power” by Nin Harris (5195 words)

No Spoilers: Velia is one of three siren-sisters who work for the Queen Mother, a powerful and increasingly eccentric presence in the royal court of a vast underwater domain. She and her sisters are tasked with retrieving a serving-dish from the parlor of the court’s Arch Mage, Rasheel. What might have been a simple enough theft, however, becomes something very complex, a a little bit steamy, as Velia and Rasheel meet and navigate each other. The piece is told with a refreshing and earnest voice and a fantasy that mixes styles, times periods, and magic to great effect. It has romance, skulduggery, a smattering of courtly intrigue, and heaping helping of magic, and it’s a lot of fun.
Keywords: Songs, Waters, Sirens, Mer-people, Theft, Love
Review: I love the voice of this story, the way Velia comes across as open and earnest, her descriptions and observations full of quiet beauty and her dialogue nearly blunt in comparison, revealing a siren who doesn’t have time for the superfluous or loaded. Oh, she can flirt, and does to charming effect within the story, but there’s a line between that and the kind of intrigue that might be expected of a thief. Not that she’s really a thief at heart. Instead, she says things plainly and directly, something that seems to immediately break through the defenses of Rasheel, the Arch Mage who seems to carry the weight of the kingdom on his back and desires only a release from his burdens. And I like that he seems to recognize in Velia immediately something that he’s been missing, just as she sees something in him that seems to solidify all her dissatisfaction with her current employ and employer. She’s a subordinate, and for all her claims that she’s independent, she’s stuck in her current place as errand-runner. She sees in Rasheel a way out of that, something that will involve her being able to be an equal. For Rasheel I think it’s more complicated. He wants someone to take away his burden because he feels it’s too much, and he’s tired all the time. He wants to quit, even though he does good work, because he doesn’t feel like it’s worth it. And I just like that the solution for this is something quick and decisive and Where he doesn’t have to quit, where what he needs to do is give up some of his power and share some of his responsibility. It’s not the solution he asked for, but I do like that’s what he gets, and that he recognizes that it’s the right call, even if it’s not really what he wanted. It’s a fun romp of a story, romantic and magical and featuring a quick but vibrant world building, and it’s very much worth checking out! A great read!

“The Boy Who Loved Drowning” by R.K. Duncan (4230 words)

No Spoilers: Bit is bought by a master diviner, Kal, who is the best at what she does, which is drowning. For the truth swims in the deep waters, in the black still places, and she sees in Bit potential, because he is not afraid of the water. In fact, he comes to crave it, the place where he can play, where he can imagine, where the friendly weeds can make games with him. Where he can find answers that he should not be able to find. The piece is mysterious and gorgeous, lonely and deliciously dark. Bit is a character it’s easy for me to root for, and the story takes him and the reader on a journey as sweet as drowning, as bitter as truth.
Keywords: Water, Drowning, Divination, Apprentices, Truth
Review: I love what this story does with the cold dark waters where Bit finds a connection. Because despite the fantasy trappings here, despite the fact that Bit is treated fairly well by his master, it’s always the case that Bit is bought and paid for, taken away from all other children company and given only the lake as a playground. Where he is told that he will make mistakes and yet never does. All he ever finds is the truth, because the lake, because the drowning itself, wants him to. Because the drowning seems just as lonely as Bit, just as but off from everyone else. Some plunge its depths to find the truth, but they do so for themselves, thinking of the waters as an obstacle to the truth rather than the home of the truth. Except for Bit, who does see the waters as his home, who plays with the weeds and the water rather than seeking to overcome them. His relationship evolves in ways that seem good at first, that seem beautiful and fragile, but that grow darker the more and more he finds there at the bottom of the lake. And it is easy to frame this darkness as hungry, as wanting something dangerous from Bit. Certainly that’s what Kal senses, and her actions are in line with a person concerned for her ward. Except that the drowning never lies. And it’s possible as well that Kal really is distrustful not out of concern for Bit, but because she doesn’t understand what he has and is afraid of it. And in some ways it’s easy to paint the drowning as a monster, because it’s unfathomable and just as desperate for Bit as he is for it. But with that logic Kal is no less dangerous, no more trustworthy, and when it comes time for Bit to make the choice about what he will do, it’s hard for me to fault him. Because he’s not free. Because there is no indication that the drowning wants to hurt him. Not that it seems safe, but sometimes there are no safe options, and for a young boy without freedom, that’s certainly the case here. And it’s a lovely and wrenching story, dark and sweet and excellent!


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