Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #285

Art by Noah Bradley
It’s another fantastically paired issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies (which at this point should really surprise no one). The themes of the issue swirl around rulership, specifically women in positions of power and weakness as heads (or nearly-heads) of state. Both stories find women who are in situations that they didn’t really want or choose. Wars that they would have avoided, marriages that they never asked for. They have all experienced loss and must deal with the complicated emotions surrounding those losses. What they also have is a plan, though, for a way forward, a way to maybe reach around the obvious traps of power and corruption and toward something better. Something where peace is possible, and people can be free. It’s a somewhat violent issue, but very much worth confronting, and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“A Song for the Leadwood Tree” by Aimee Ogden (4742 words)

No Spoilers: Nehan is the queen of a nation struggling under the twin threats of a foreign invasion—their military strength and the disease they’ve carried with them. Nehan is a warrior and poet, her songs inspiring her people while withering the strength of her enemies. It’s a power that her enemies think they have robbed her of. Nehan has a lot to fight for, though, and approaches it with a grim resolve, knowing that in order to reach of peace, her people need her not only to wield her spear, but to know when to put it down. The piece is gritty and violent but bolstered by a beauty of not only the poetry and song Nehan authors but the love she has for her nation, people, and family. It’s a bloody but inspiring tale.
Keywords: War, Succession, Songs, Words, Rule
Review: This is a story caked in loss. Nehan is someone who has suffered, who has hurt. Whose daughters are dead, whose tongue has been cut out. Who is on the verge of either winning a war and so securing her own obsolescence or else losing a war and securing the destruction of her people. And I love that so much loss hasn’t made her bitter. She’s angry at times, but through it all resilient, and knows that while she is needed to end the conflict, to beat back this invasion, she also needs to stand down afterward. I really appreciate her conviction that because she is a warrior, because that is how she approaches her position, she can’t be the one to guide her nation into a future of peace. She can get them there, but that she has to fight for change. For a chance that someone else will do for peace what she did for war. And I like the complexity of the situation, the precarious place that she’s leaving not only her nation but her adopted son. The boy who must act a man in order to hold a nation together and bring them into a brighter future. One that not even everyone in the nation believes in or wants. Some care only for their own power, and it’s refreshing to see in Nehan someone who is willing to give that up. Someone who is able to trust in a younger generation to do what is right not only for the young but for everyone. It’s a lot of pressure that she’s putting on her son but no more than she has taken on herself for so long. And it recognizes that often the best time to walk away is as early as possible, rather than as late. It’s a powerful piece, full of a fierce determination and a tender love and it. is. Good! So go check it out immediate!

“The Sweetest Fruit of Summer” by R.K. Duncan (6524 words)

No Spoilers: Corra has been raised to be tribute to the king of the band of riders who migrate around a wide plain/desert taking what they can from the peoples in their range. Her role among the riders is not just as trophy, though, but rather a part of something much different, and more complex. And the piece looks at the weight of that roll and the nature of life among the riders and in the places the riders visit, and how these things shape Corra’s intentions, and her dreams. It’s an at-times bloody story that definitely doesn’t look away violence or the cost of it. Everyone expects Corra to fall into line, to see that complying is what’s best for her, when really they’ve helped her see something better still.
Keywords: Tribute, Prophecy, Death, Rule, Betrayal
Review: This story plays with some very loaded and difficult tropes in fantasy. Namely, it looks at a woman who has been essentially sold into marriage to a king of a supposedly violent and barbarous people. It hits near a certain portrayal in a certain popular SFF series/show (hint: it involves dragons), and twists it nicely, refusing to buy into the...romance of being abducted. Because, really, it’s the same kind of mentality that drives some romance works that focus on a woman taken against her will by a powerful man and then pointedly not exactly raped. No, the relationship between Corra and the king, Hadi, is not sexual, though Hadi is painted in rather sexual terms, powerful and in control Again, there’s a whole subgenre out there with titles like “Taken By the Duke” that play to this idea that she is powerless but in not violating her to the fullest he’s somehow proving himself to be decent. And the story walks with this a bit, showing her trying to stay on his good side because of his power, showing him as brutal and ruthless but praising her and giving her gifts and this place in the group that is honored and venerated. It’s a kind of seduction, and I am so glad that the story refuses to actually see it through as working. I love that she rejects that, and instead finds a way to use this system to make something better. Something that rejects both the system that say her sent away as tribute and the system that took her as tribute. She has a plan and a it takes a while but works perfectly, and I think the ending is a rather delightful knife-twist on expectations, allowing Corra to find a way that actually empowers her, that goes around the need for some sort of violent man, and steers a path toward something like justice. It’s not always the easiest story because of the tropes it deals with, but I really appreciate what it does. A great read!


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