Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #280

The latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies features two stories (one novelette and one short story) that feature cities where unrest and conflict are starting to boil. In one, the greed and corruption of the elite have created a situation where the slightest spark might ignite a bloody revolution. While in the other, a city is built on the labor of a conquered people, only for a new status quo to arrive with a shattering impact. Both show characters having to decide how to use power in complex situations where people will die either way. And having to walk the line between doing what’s right and what’s easy. It’s a complex issue that I’ll get right to reviewing!


“A Handful of Sky” by Elly Bangs (8287 words)

No Spoilers: Jorren is a tailor in exile in the bad part of town, getting by through making clothes that seem magical but are actually mundane. Despite her ruined reputation (and eye, thanks to a very upset noble, here called Swathed) and fifty years outside the politics of the upper city, Jorren is enlisted to help a powerful man obtain and incredibly powerful piece of clothing, one made out of the sky itself. In the setting, all magical clothing gives the wearer something, whether eternal youth or protection from harm or the ability to blast fire at will. No one seems to know what a garment made of sky will do, but it’s Jorren’s only chance at maybe crawling back out of the deep hole she’s fallen into. It’s a nicely imagined world and intricate situation where Jorren must navigate the court intrigues as well as the scars of her own past in order to reach for something as elusive as the sky.
Keywords: Clothing, Tailoring, Sky, Hopes, Queer MC, CW- Suicide
Review: I really like the way that the story builds up the magic of the setting, how there is such a rich source of it everywhere and yet in practice magic is the province of the nobility, the Swathed, and everyone else is just a resource to be mined for their youth and their other desirable assets, working them until there’s nothing left. And Jorren is someone who has fallen backwards into the lower class, once a promising student and now a lowly exile, almost forgotten. Except that she was researching something that no one is supposed to research before her exile, and fifty years later that becomes important. Vital. And there’s this feeling throughout that she has to struggle with the loss of falling out of that class but also the way that the whole class system is unjust to begin. Because when she’s given the chance to get back in, she knows that she can’t, that her time being poor has changed her in some fundamental ways, has opened her eyes in ways that she can no longer be closed to. She cannot unsee or unknown it, and so even when faced with the prospect of being more or less let back into the fold, she can’t. She resists. Even when she knows that it’s hopeless for her. Even when she literally has something that kind of grants wishes. She knows that she’s not the person to use that to shape the world. That what she needs to do is step back and empower those who have been for too long powerless. And by doing that she opens the way for change and a breaking down of the corrupt system in place. I’m not sure I wanted her to have to die for it, but it does underline the point rather well, and it avoids the creep of misery that has infected her. It’s a story that walks a line between tragedy and fun, focusing on how Jorren has learned from her past. Not just from her mistakes, but from the road she’s walked and where it’s brought her. And it’s certainly a piece to spend some time with. A fine read!

“Black, Like Earth” by Jordyn Blanson (3664 words)

No Spoilers: Eratu is a youth who has manifested the markings of a misha, something that both gives them magical abilities and sets them apart as a warrior of a people who have been conquered. Eratu is told to hide their marks, though, to avoid becoming a prisoner of the occupying force that still fears the misha. The piece looks at the inequality and prejudice that the native inhabitants face, made to repair the buildings their people built, now for the benefit of those who conquered them. It’s a hard life, and made rather dramatically worse by the arrival of a new presence to the city. The piece is visceral and feels to me like the opening of a longer narrative. Not much is revealed about what is going on, instead focusing on Eratu’s place in this city and how that chances completely.
Keywords: Occupation, Peace, Marked, Invasion, Family
Review: This piece does a good job of layering the harm done in this city. Eratu is young, too young to remember the war that resulted in their city being controlled by the Usha. All they know is that the Usha are there and are pretty much in control. And the piece does a good job of building up what that means, the prejudice and the racism at work, the way that they aren’t paid fairly, are constantly in danger of being attacked. And I like that they don’t have the same connection to the city as the only other member of their family, who is old enough to remember before, to still be tied to the city in profound ways. And Eratu is tied to them, so it sort of goes in a string, and one that is severed abruptly when the city is invaded again, by an unknown power who seems to be targeting not Eratu’s people but the Usha. Which is an interesting move, because for Eratu it’s not something that they really grieve. They are horrified by it, because that kind of violence is horrifying, But they don’t love the people who are being hurt. It’s a very loaded series of events that sort of push them to confront their legacy and what they’ve inherited with being a misha. And they have to choose how to wield their power and against whom. And again, it feels a bit to me like the first part of a longer story, because while the ending is satisfying enough and puts them in a very different place, it also doesn’t answer many of the questions that the story brings up. What it does do is show the connection being broken between Eratu and the city that never meant the same thing to them as it did to their family. For them, at least for now, leaving is a freedom, is a release, and I’m interested to see what the story might do with that from here. It’s a action-packed and rather visceral read, full of magic and potential, and it’s well worth checking out.


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