|Art by Alexander Ostrowski|
The two stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies deal with magic and family, and more specifically with magical companions that threaten to wreck the fragile peace and safety that the narrators of the stories feel they have achieved. In one of the stories, though, that threat is very real, and very deadly. In the other, it only seems a threat, but is really the key to unlocking something much better than what the narrator currently has. The works are very different, but their focus on younger women struggling against the roles and fates decided for them unite them in a rather wonderful way. To the reviews!
“The Many Lives of an Abiku” by Tobi Ogundiran (5197 words)
No Spoilers: The story opens with Sola, a young girl, bound to a stone, a man versed in magic over her, carving something into her flesh, telling her that she’s a Abiku, a spirit who is reborn and dies within seven years, relishing in the grief the parents experience at the repeated deaths of their children. It seems ridiculous at first, but as Sola grows afterward she is visited by a different spirit, Rewa, and Rewa is not pleased that she’s still alive. Though Sola can’t remember, the events of her life convince her that the diagnosis she was given is correct. By then, though, the influence of Rewa has already gained enough momentum that finding a happy ending might be impossible. In the face of the violent spirits trying to pull her back, what can Sola do? It’s a grim, creeping story about the power of love and the power to twist that love into grief.
Keywords: Spirits, Family, Twins, Possession, Faces
Review: I like how the story really gets into the power of the Abiku. Not just the malevolence. Not just the repeated deaths. Those things are bad enough, really. The truly terrifying element, though, is that they feed off of and relish in causing pain and grief. What they’re after is the pain they cause their parents. When Sola is bound to her body, unable to escape, it threatens to break the chain of pain that stretches back a long way. But that chain is strong, and for all that Sola is able to love her family, to want to choose to stay, that very thing almost becomes fuel for the Abiku to use against her. For me, it’s as if the pain they enjoy doesn’t have to just be from the parents, and when they realize that they might be in danger, when Rewa suspects that Sola might be able to banish or defeat her, the focus becomes not on causing pain to her parents, but to her. That love that was the tether keeping her in the mortal world becomes the target and Rewa and the other spirits attack it viciously. It’s a grim story, violent and difficult, and it doesn’t pull away to offer Sola a truly happy ending. These spirits are not easy to defeat, and the cycle is incredibly difficult to break. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope, though, While the cycle seem to continue on, the transition is traumatic, the resolution unknown. The fate of Rewa and the other spirits isn’t revealed, and it’s possible that the change within Sola, her lean away from causing pain and wanting to stay with a loving family, might win out this time. It’s a story dipped in pain, and in that it pulls no punches. For me, though, it does push back against the inevitability of loss and grief winning over love and family. A great read!
“Satin and Velvet” by R.H. Cloake (2851 words)
No Spoilers: Greta is the apprentice to The Master, a magic user of some power and skill, if also of a terrible manner and temperament, who teaches her but also gets blind drunk every night. It’s a position formerly held by Greta’s dear friend, Samara. But Samara was chosen by a satin gast, a bit of sentient magic who chose to serve her out of love. Something that The Master would not forgive. And in seeking to rid herself of the gast, Samara ended up losing herself, and died. Not a new satin gast has appeared to help Greta, and it’s a mixture of fear and confusion that rises out of the appearance. The piece is careful and complex, looking at the way people moralize toil and pain, and especially at the ways those with power hate to see it in those they’ve deemed their lessers.
Keywords: Magic, Training, Friendship, Desire, CW- Abuse
Review: I like the way the story sets up the conflict to be about what should be this great thing for the narrator. The satin gast is a bit of magic choosing to serve a person out of love. It works to give them what they want, often without having to be asked. It’s a gift, freely given. And yet like many gifts, the narrator and Samara before them are taught that it’s a bad thing, that it shows some sort of moral failing, that as long as they are being helped by the gast, they won’t be taught magic by The Master, who is an all around asshole. For Samara, perhaps because she had been trying to be an apprentice for so long, being spurned by The Master feels like the end of the world. Like everything she ever wanted was being taken away. And it ends up killing her. For Greta, though, the youngest of those who could have been chosen to replace Samara, things are a bit more complicated. She starts out afraid of what will happen, and hating herself for what has happened, for how The Master now refuses to teach her. Samara thought an apprentice who wasn’t taught isn’t an apprentice, but a slave. And she thought that was right. So I love that Greta turns that, believing that a master who doesn’t teach isn’t a master. He’s just a tyrant. No one worthy of being served. And while Samara believed herself unworthy of the love magic was showing her (because that’s what The Master wanted her to believe, because that’s how he saw her), Greta knows that love isn’t something to be so quickly cast aside. That she has earned being loved, earned simply by the magic choosing to love her. And by embracing that, deciding that she doesn’t need the training The Master would offer only to withhold, because she has the magic of the gast, which is more powerful still than the hateful practices of The Master. It’s a wonderful read, warm and beautifully closed, bringing Greta to her kind of freedom and promise and family. Definitely go check it out!