|Art by Anton Ninov|
The latest Beneath Ceaseless Skies brings two stories of women dealing with systemic issues separating them from their happiness. Intent on punishing them for taking strides toward embracing their own desires and needs. In both instances, the idea of justice is perverted in order to try and destroy the freedom of women who only want to protect themselves, and each time that idea of justice is wielded by a man to try and silence them. It’s not a super happy issue, but there is a a rising sense of breaking cages, and reaching for freedom, that makes it exhilarating at the same. To the reviews!
“The Widow” by Emma Törzs (5671 words)
No Spoilers: Perrine Mauroy is the wife of a “madman” in a historic France that is just starting to be able to run successful blood transfusions. Leaning heavily on actual historical events surrounding that time and science, the story reframes the narrative to center neither the scientist whose experiments would be suppressed, nor the man doing the suppressing out of religious concern about the sanctity of blood. Rather, with Perrine as the voice of the story, everything takes on a different light, the science neither sin or salvation next to the much more common and widespread atrocities of spousal abuse and institutional misogyny. And it blends magic into the historical context in interesting and compelling ways.
Keywords: Blood Transfusions, Marriage, CW- Abuse, Poisoning, Transformations
Review: Well having a husband who work in a med lab and who is a giant nerd did prepare me nicely for this story, which looks at the practice of transfusing humans with animal blood in an attempt to change their demeanor. Here the focus is on Perrine Mauroy, a woman who in many ways is sidelined in the historical texts she appears in, cast as the wife of one of the early “beneficiaries” of animal blood transfusion, one who eventually kills her husband in an attempt to discredit the doctor pushing for more research into transfusions. Through all this she’s often portrayed as a pawn, rarely as a victim of abuse, and even less often as someone reaching for agency and power in a time and place where both were denied her. The story does a great job of showing a character, now fictionalized, taking back that agency and power and asserting her voice over those of the men who would have victimized her. This is her voice, and one that she’s consciously filtering through the hand of a man, turning him and those other men around her into the bit players, hapless and bumbling and, ultimately, doomed in their pursuits by the ways they underestimate and belittle her and those like her. It’s a story for me about having to embrace what power is available, even if it’s the power of a witch, or a wolf, because there’s nowhere else to turn, and no other option than putting up with abuse or taking the fall in a scheme always designed to destroy you. Perrine rejects all of that and becomes something new, something that no man is going to hurt again, and while it’s not exactly a victory, isn’t exactly a happy ending, it recognizes that in this setting (and in any setting where women are treated this way) there can be no happy ending. Only tragedies or triumphs that are not about happiness, but about being sated, about letting sharp teeth tear through flesh and feed. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than the alternative, and while the ending here is for me rather chilling, it’s freeing as well. A wonderful read!
“Breath Of The Sahara” by Inegbenoise O. Osagie (6861 words)
No Spoilers: Esohe and Obehi are friends, are really each other’s only friends--much to the consternation of Esohe’s rather and Obehi’s brother. But they’re also young women with a bit of a rebellious streak and a plan to steal gold from the underground home of the Zephyrs, being connected to the gods who over time become the winds, their bodies withering as the air itself erodes them. At first it’s something that the pair revere, but as the story progresses it becomes something else, as the vagueries and mysteries of the Zephyrs and the gods become intimately real. It’s a wrenching story about loss and transformation, faith and doubt, and it makes for a rather touching and beautiful experience.
Keywords: Wind, Gods, Transformations, Trials, Queer MC
Review: This isn’t exactly a happy story, but it’s touching and tender all the same, building up this relationship between the two young women. Both of them isolated, both of them a bit on the outside of their community, not least of why because of the feelings them have for each other. Feelings they seem to hide because of how dangerous they are, because the setting (or at least their region of it) is not one that is accepting. And it’s a bit heartbreaking that it turns out that Esohe is actually a Zephyr, is actually that near to what people consider of the divine. And yet she knows that her coming out as one will only cause people to doubt and question the gods, knows that if everything was known people who bend themselves into pretzels trying to find an explanation that meant their feelings towards her--that she’s a trouble maker, weird, deviant--were correct. And it’s just so fucking sad and beautiful how the two spend their time together leading up to the end, which really isn’t the end, because even after Esohe is gone her father manages to get Obehi arrested and on the way to being probably executed before the Zephyr step in and speak on her behalf, careful all the time not to really tell the truth, knowing how that would go over, but not lying either. Framing what happened in a way that the people of the community can’t follow all the way through. Not that they still can’t punish Obehi. But they can’t kill her, and in some ways that’s a huge triumph. I mean, that’s really sad but it also shows how Obehi is able to find her way forward, alive and in many ways now more pious than the devout who were trying to kill her, because of her personal connection now to the Zephyrs. It’s a complex read, and not an easy one, that really digs into how communities can dig into a kind of orthodoxy that’s less about the tenants of their religion and more about the structures and authority it gives those with power. And though the story is anchored by loss and this gulf that the characters are never able to fully bridge, there’s still a kind of hope, that their love wasn’t completely destroyed, that it burns still, even if it can’t be fully embodied. A lovely read!