Monday, July 22, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #282

Art by Artur Zima
The two stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies have everything to do with war and survival. With people who have lived despite the horrors they have seen and, in some way, despite the horrors they have authored. And both characters find that conflict is finding them again, putting them back in a place where they will be witness and conduit for something large, something powerful and shattering. For something that could spark a new war, and stop one from reigniting. So let’s get to the reviews!


“Gert of the Hundred” by L.S. Johnson (9132 words)

No Spoilers: Gert is a survivor of a war crime, where a hundred people from her village were lined up and shot, buried in a mass grave. She managed to dig her way free, but not without making a promise that has followed her north to a new home where she lives mostly alone but for a cat and rafters full of spiders. When the duchy decides that a new tower is to be built, it brings in a camp of workers to do the work, something that the local villagers don’t take kindly, too. Gert, though, always something of an outsider, comes to take care of some of the children that come with the workers. And from there she’s drawn down into the promises she made in the past, into the darkness that has never left her. It’s a grim and wrenching read, full of violence and small voices calling for blood. It’s about knowledge, and bargains, and justice for the small.
Keywords: Building, Spiders, Bargains, Illness, War, Iron, CW- Death of a Child
Review: This is something of a harrowing story about war and abuses and surviving. About what people are worth, which is always more than some might think. For Gert, who has lived with nothing but the voices of the animals around her, having children enter her life is unexpected, but not unwelcome. She’s something of a healer, helping them as best they can and acting as a bridge between the villagers and the builders. Her role shows that even when there is friction, people will often do their best to help people. To try and come together even as fear and poverty and uncertainty try and keep them apart. There is more than just prejudice going on, though, and Gert comes to suspect that what’s going on with the tower isn’t the simple story that she’s been told. Instead, it seems to be opening wounds that have been closed since the last wars ended—the ones that took her family and left her for dead in a mass grave. There’s a heavy line of horror to the piece, too, emphasized by the focus on spiders, on the hatred that grows in people when confronted by something small that might be dangerous. Like people, there is the impulse for some to crush spiders whenever they are seen. Even though they are helpful, even though they don’t tend to bother humans. And that too is a festering wound, something that Gert has known intimately, and one that eventually she gives herself over to. Because sometimes there’s no answer to the hate and violence except to try and hit back. Not that it lessens the tragedy of what happened. Not that it brings back the dead. But that maybe it can prevent the cycle from repeating indefinitely. The story is full of that quiet hope bordering on desperation, and the pain that Gert carries for surviving. It’s the realization of a promise, and one full of fur and fangs and a multitude of small, intent bodies, all legs and eyes and revenge. A great read!

“Faêl” by Tobi Ogundiran (4232 words)

No Spoilers: Sùr is a Faêl, an immortal created by the witch-king Elehua as part of his war against the moons, the war for the power of the moons, which he wanted for himself. The war is over, though, and though the witch-king technically won, in part because of the Faêl, the witch-king himself disappeared, leaving Sùr to take over command of what remained with the help of his wife, Shiera, who fifty years ago died and who Sùr has been delivering to her final resting place since then. Unbeknownst to Sùr, though, a number of the people around him, including his wife, aren’t exactly what they seem to be, and the story brings Sùr to a confrontation with his role, his hopes, and his past.
Keywords: Moons, Witches, War, Memories, Immortals
Review: This story builds a mostly-barren world around an ancient war a thousand years gone, where the winners have little to celebrate as times grinds them down. For Sùr there is just this last gesture, burying his wife in the home she claimed, and through that unwittingly playing a part in a struggle that goes beyond even what he understood. For me, a lot of the story is about memories, about what Sùr can’t remember, the past that was stolen from him when he was turned by the witch-king into service. And it’s about power, about the way that the witch-king seeks to dominate and destroy, full of an arrogance that he is the most deserving of power, that he is owed the magic of the moons. And because of his own toxicity, he ends up underestimating a woman he considers his conquest, who in turn puts him in his place through a cunning much deeper than his. And I like that about the story, that in many ways it’s not really about Sùr or anything he does. Because he doesn’t end up doing all that much. His personal struggle is little compared to the real game being played, and he is instead witness to the events that transpire, a fly on the wall to be present when a plan over a thousand years in the making finally is put into action. And for me it’s satisfying at least because it shows that the witch-king, for all his power and bravado, for all that he was willing to wait so long, still finds that his aspirations come to dust because of his arrogance, because he wasn’t satisfied even after stealing the magic of two of the moons. And the prose is beautifully rendered, the setting richly imagined, and the action when it comes visceral and immediate. A fun and memorable read!


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