Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #286

Art by Noah Bradley
The two stories in the latest Beneath Ceaseless Skies both deal with younger people getting some advice and guidance from powerful magic users. In one, a boy dreams about apprenticing with a Magician who he hopes might get him out of going to war. In the other, a woman seeks out a Witch in order to free her from a different sort of doom. In both, the characters are trying to turn away from death, to avoid the end that has befallen so many others. Only one of the characters gets what they’re after, unfortunately, though both learn some valuable lessons along the way. To the reviews!


“The Silent Flowers of the Magician’s Garden” by Eleanna Castroianni (3327 words)

No Spoilers: River is a boy being readied for war in a land where each person has a flower bed that reflects who they are, their health, and becomes the eventual grave for their bodies. River has lived through both his older brothers dying in the war that now his father is preparing him for. Only he doesn’t want to fight. And when he begins doing work for a magician who cures people’s flowers and helps people throughout the village, he at first thinks it might hold an escape for him from the fate he so wants to avoid. The piece is heavy with the lingering presence of war filtered through the perspective of a child being pushed to grow up much too quickly. It’s quite and it’s powerful, building to a rather stunning confrontation and conclusion.
Keywords: Flowers, Magic, Apprenticeships, War, Songs
Review: The figure of the Magician is interesting to me, the way that he’s in this village doing what most would consider very little. The way that his flowers don’t seem to sing to River. And for me the story is about growing up, about realizing some things that in some ways separate children from adults. Or at least children from not-children, that end up pushing River outside of the more innocent (or at least ignorant) state of being a child and into a world that is dominated by war and death and loss. It’s not something that he’s ever had to really confront before, even though he’s lost siblings and other relatives. Even though everyone seems to have lost a lot. But it’s so normal to him that he’s never really questioned it. Like the Magician for a long time, River still believes, at least enough, that the system is just the way things are. He doesn’t want to be a part of the war, but the full implications of it haven’t really fallen, and don’t until the shattering end when all of the illusions that have been built around him by adults to keep him believing in the system come crashing down. And it’s a wonderfully rendered, physical moment of devastation that I really appreciate, where he sees something that he’s always been looking past, that he’s never before been able to hear because it was part of the background sorrow of his world. And it’s a rather gutting read because it doesn’t really leave him space to avoid war. Or to destroy war. he’s left with the grim realities that it might be pointless but it will also probably kill him, and once that bit of doubt slips in, that lapse of belief, he’s able to understand what the Magician has been trying to tell him. It doesn’t make anything easier, or better really. But then that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t know, shouldn’t hear what’s going on in the air all around him. A wonderful read!

“Witch’s Road” by Christian K. Martinez (4746 words)

No Spoilers: Catalina walks a road in this story, through a forest, to ask a gift from a witch. The Witch, rather, who has the power to grant things that others fear asking, like eternal life. And the piece focuses very much on Catalina’s decision, her desire, and how she confronts the complications and implications of her decision. It’s a story that’s not exactly about bargains, but rather about choice, and I feel that distinction is an important one for the story. It’s a piece that seems to be about the idea of burdens, and how you might be able to choose the burdens that you want to carry, rather than being stuck with those you don’t want. It’s a vivid and magical piece, full of hope and something like defiance.
Keywords: Forests, Roads, Witches, Gifts, Immortality
Review: I love how this story twists the tropes that surround asking for immortality. Because it’s basically always framed as something foolish that someone wants, something that they come to regret, something that they should never have asked for. Because it’s often to avoid grief, or so that they can do great things, or influence events, or or or. But Catalina isn’t really walking into this ignorant of what it would mean to be immortal. And there is something rather empowering about a story where this person knows what she wants and goes and gets it, through the resistance of this test that is supposed to separate those who can handle immortality from those who cannot. Which, I mean, I also like that they’re a test, that this Witch isn’t just going to go and do this for everyone. There is an element of needing to make sure she’s not doing something wrong in granting this wish. In giving this gift. And the test is nicely handled, I think, dealing with those grim realities of living forever, the grief of having so many people you care about die, the drag of time and history, the impermanence of permanence. The story goes deeper into that than some others where the main character ends up regretting their decision. Here Catalina has thought about it and knows what it means. And she doesn’t back down just because other people might not be able to handle it. She’s not them, and she doesn’t have any fear or doubt about this thing. It allows her to stare down the test and push through to getting what she’s chosen. And I like the joy of it, that it’s not some release from pain or loneliness, that it doesn’t fix any of her problems except that it gives her a control that she didn’t have, and it releases her from the fear of dying, which was holding her back from living. With that out of the way, there is a feeling of movement and hope and energy that I really like, and the piece as a whole is fun and vibrant and a fantastic read! Go check it out!


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