|Art by Rytis Sabaliauskas|
Two stories of queer romance, guilt, and redemption round out the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The characters here find themselves in difficult situations, forced out of love to contemplate betraying everything they stand for and believe in. Tempted into thinking that maybe it could be right to do something they know is wrong. And both end up rejecting that idea (at least in part), embracing instead the idea that through resilience and cooperation and love they can resist the corrupt systems pushing them toward betraying those they care about and maybe save them instead. To the reviews!
“Forgive Me, My Love, for the Ice and the Sea” by C.L. Clark (5727 words)
No Spoilers: Laema is a former pirate who had hoped to be out of the game, had hoped to have given it up to be with their lover. But when they’re caught and their lover is used as a bargaining chip, it seems the sea isn’t quite done with them, and they’re encouraged to join the crew of the Pirate Queen herself, Issherth, on a trip to the bottom of the world to meet a goddess. The mission itself seems mad and Laema’s secret goal madder still—to kill Issherth so that she will plague the High Court no longer. As the voyage goes on, though, Laema finds that their feelings will not settle, and their resolve, however strong to free their lover, fights against her admiration and growing feelings from Issherth. It’s a tense, magical read, full of these people dealing with their battling emotions, their need to do right by those they love.
Keywords: Seas, Pirates, Bargains, Gods, Grief, Queer MC
Review: I love the way this story slowly unfolds, told it seems as a letter, as an account of this adventure, and so in some ways promising that the narrator makes it through. And they do, after a fashion. But I love how that’s complicated, and how what might have been a story witih a trajectory toward tragedy, toward betrayal and death, becomes something else. Something powerful and defiant and triumphant. It’s a story with a mood that is tinged with longing and with loss and with love. The narrator is trapped, working for a government they hate in order to free the woman they love. To do it, though, they have to kill a woman they admire, and a woman that they grow closer and closer to. And it’s such a heartbreaking and yet wonderful thing to watch as the two get closer and closer, the narrator justifying it because it will help them kill her and yet they never do. Again and again they get the opportunity and again and again they find that they just can’t. They don’t want to, and some part of them rebels so hard against it, seeing their own struggle with loss reflected in Issherth, in her quest to bring back her dead wife from goddess of the sea. It’s also a story that could have ended in so many different places. At the bottom of the world, with blood and ice. In the depths of the ocean, with regret and sacrifice. In a courtroom, with a confession and a mockery of justice. But it doesn’t. And I want to take a moment to say how very much I appreciate that. That I appreciate that the story refuses to give these characters a tragic ending, despite the tone and mood of the story and the expectation that, at the end of the day, someone has to lose. Someone has to sacrifice everything. To me there often feels like there’s so much pressure to provide a...”balanced” ending. One where the characters have to pay some Great Price for their victory. Which tend to rob the victory of really feeling all that good. It’s a pain that we all recognize and that I feel fiction in general tends to reinforce and demand (in most genres, at least). But here is a story with the same literary voice, the same power, the same feelings, and yet it doesn’t end in tragedy or loss. It ends in victory, hard won all the same (and I will come for anyone who says that it’s too easy or suspension of disbelief or blah blah NO, no you don’t get to say that as a way to try and place more value on a more painful story than one that resolves in joy and love). And it’s just a wonderful read that you should check out immediately!
“The Moneylender’s Angel” by Robert Minto (4404 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a longshoreman working in a rough neighborhood, his life only really softened by their relationship with Gareth, a man who had worked as a money collector for a while. The realities of their world are harsh, and so when a bit of illicit magic falls into their lap, it seems like it might be a bit of good fortune, a way for them to finally get out of their poverty and start living for something better. Both have dark pasts, both are in many ways trying to make up for what they’ve done. But balancing out the books, giving more than they take, might mean walking a complex and painful road. It’s a careful, tender, rending experience.
Keywords: Balance, Magic, Sacrifice, Queer MC, Hope
Review: A lot of this story comes back to the idea of balance and guilt, sin and making good. And I love the situation, that these two people have found each other, have started this process of trying to make something beautiful in the world in some way to make up for all the bad they’ve been a part of, all the pain they’ve caused. It’s an impossible situation, because both weren’t exactly free to make their own decisions, and both stopped as soon as they were safely able to. But it doesn’t change their own feelings, their own desires to make up for what they’ve done. For Gareth especially, the only hope for redemption seems to be in healing, in using the gifts he had previously used for violence to try and help people. The problem, of course, is that to get to that point he needs training. Using this bit of luck that full in their lap would make that possible, but it would also mean using something that has come from more human suffering. Even though they can do nothing about it now, is using that for their own benefit, even if it’s also so they can help others, still a bad thing? It’s such a messy and difficult question and I love the way that both people struggle with it and how, ultimately, they decide to proceed. And it’s so heartbreaking because these situations are always heartbreaking, where even living in a system requires a certain level of doing harm, and the only way out of it can seem to be to have enough to actually give back. But having enough normally means doing even more bad, because the system is toxic from the bottom up. And the narrator’s choice is a difficult one and perhaps a fucked up one but I have a hard time condemning it. They all have to do what they can live with in order to try and balance out their books. That the narrator feels like they have to fudge a little to make sure that at least one of them ends ahead, that speaks true to me. And while it’s still a wrong he’s doing, still a violation of Gareth’s trust, it’s hard to hate him for it. It’s...well, it’s an impossible situation, with no real good answers or solutions, and here are these two people, drawn together, finding kindness and acceptance in each other, making their own way forward. It’s difficult and complex and beautifully rendered, the world building light but familiar enough in its lines of corruption and oppression to speak of depth. The character work is excellent, and it’s very much a story to spend some time with. A great read!