Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #277

I continue to be impressed by the way that Beneath Ceaseless Skies can pair stories together without soliciting specific elements or themes. Here we have two stories (one short story & one novelette) that feature family and bones and magic and reaching for a better station in life. For both main characters, a situation presents itself where they can accept a lot in life that might be simple and boring and familiar, or they can take a risk and maybe grab something better. And of course they both reach for that something better. The stories explore just how that act of reaching changes them, and how the outcomes aren’t certain, and even if they do grasp what they sought, it might not be exactly what they expected. To the reviews!


“The Bone Flute Quartet” by K.J. Kabza (4568 words)

No Spoilers: Bretchen is a girls who wants to become a witch, much to the consternation of her mother, who would prefer she go into a more respectable field. Knitting or something like it. With the help of her grandmother, though, Bretchen might just have the chance to take the first step toward reaching her dreams. Of course, sometimes that first step is a doozy. The piece is quick and rather light in tone if not really in content. There’s a definite darkness lurking everywhere, and a hungry violence just under the surface of this world, but Bretchen is eager for adventure and revels in the opportunity to follow her heart. It’s just that it takes her directly into an intense darkness and a rather startling confrontation rather quickly, which might leave her wondering if she’s made a terrible mistake. As bumpy as the ride gets for her, though, for me it was loads of fun.
Keywords: Witches, Family, Trials, Bones, Music, Flight
Review: This is a rather delightful read that twists a lot of expectations and for me manages to capture some of the bright adventure of younger audience stories without losing a formal complexity or very mature content level. It reveals a place where children reenact bloody executions and a young girl deciding she wants to be a witch is more scandalous than it is ridiculous. Which makes sense, given Bretchen’s family. And I just love the tone and flow of the piece, the way that it captures something bright and fun and free while revolving around death and dark magic. Bretchen wants to have a bit of power and a bit of magic, wants to feel what it’s like, and it’s an impulse that yes, leads her close to ruin, but at the same time it pulls her back from it as well, allowing her a chance to have this grand time and learn more about what it means to be a witch. Not just the flying around and stealing treasures and gaining powers but also that playing with these forces can have consequences. Consequences that she mostly manages to step clear of, but it’s a story about her realizing what this dream means. Not just the good parts that she’s romanticized but the real parts that she hadn’t really considered. And for that it’s a story about growing up, but one that doesn’t crush her hope or her possibilities. Rather, the piece affirms her decisions and gives her a way to pursue what she wants in a way that no, isn’t entirely safe, but then nothing is entirely safe. Rather, it gives her support and mentorship and guidance and then trusts her with the rest, which is a wonderful thing to see. A fantastic read!

“The Thirty-Eight-Hundred Bone Coat” by R.K. Duncan (8384 words)

No Spoilers: Navid is the son in a family that specializes in making special garments interwoven with bones from hands of a long ago event that lie in the silt of the river that runs through their city. His sister runs the business, his mother makes the clothing, his father prepares the bones—Navid is the diver. When a wealthy prince arrives with an order to an absolutely ridiculous coat, the family sees an opportunity to improve their fortunes permanently. Making the attempt, though, is not without risk, and their fortunes might end up poor indeed if Navid can’t find enough hands and pull them up from the bottom of the river. It’s a tense piece about what Navid is willing to do for his family, and what he might ruin along the way. It’s dark, its warmth challenged by the cold of the water and the regard of the restless dead.
Keywords: Bones, Family, Rivers, Clothing, Diving
Review: I love how the story here centers so much on this impossible task and the weight of what it could mean if the family pulls it off. And the specific shame that Navid feels when it turns out he’s the reason that they might fail. Not because he’s bad at what he does, but because it is an unreasonable amount to ask of him. But despite that, there’s something in him that refuses to give in. Because the amount of money at stake could set them all up, could actually raise them into a different class, and for that he’s willing to risk anything. Even blaspheming against the ghosts of the river he’s been taught to respect. Even losing the respect of his father. There’s so much here about that draw of money, the way that the entire family knows that there’s nothing they won’t try in order to get it, aside from hurting other people. But they’ll put themselves at risk. They might even put their souls at risk. When in many ways how I read the story is also informed by how I interact with the world and with money. Needing it, knowing that there are rules I’d break if it meant having enough that I wouldn’t really have to work as much ever again. Knowing that it might mean having to live with what I did, with how I compromised myself. Like Navid has to do, essentially giving up his one skill for a chance at “something better” without really know what that is. He’s done this thing and the story gives the ending a sense of...well, something close to victory and relief. But entwined with that is a bittersweet note that he’ll never be innocent of certain things again. Now, those innocences never really helped him. Toil isn’t moral. But it does change things and it might have damaged a relationship very important to him. Which he’ll have to live with. And yeah, it’s a nicely dark and complex story about money and family and hope and it’svery much worth checking out!


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