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Review: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #278, May 23, 2019

Review: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #278, May 23, 2019

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, May 23, 2019

The Two-Bullet War” by Karen Osborne
Abacus of Ether” by Stephen Case

“The Two-Bullet War” by Karen Osborne is a story steeped with beautiful social and narrative metaphors. At its most basic, “The Two-Bullet War” is a story about royal succession following the death of the queen. The main character, Mila, is the queen’s chosen Gun, a sort of Justiciar for the kingdom. Mila is also one of the “Mountain folk,” whom were once viewed as subhuman until the queen changed that view and opened their borders. When the queen dies, one of her sons, Karstan, decides to challenge his brother’s claim for the throne. Karstan is an isolationist and racist, while his brother, Alidar, wants to maintain the regime his mother built.

The twist here is that instead of fighting a full civil war, the two princes choose champions to fight for them with the loser dying along with the defeated champion. Karstan chooses Mila due to her skill and Alidar chooses Mila’s secret lover/husband.

The conflict setup is as complex as the social structure Osborne creates. From the first word, there’s barely a moment to breathe. There are a few times it feels like the story is about to spiral out of control as Osborne threads in yet another subplot, but she manages it skillfully, ending the story with a few sentences that somehow wrap up every plot thread introduced. In short, it’s a great story and well worth a read. Also, it’s Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ Audio Podcast story for this issue and the reader does the story justice.

“Abacus of Ether” by Stephen Case is told through the point of view of Madam Gray, a blind actuary who uses magical ink to write insurance policies for soldiers going off to a losing war. Her employee, Magdalena, employs a different type of magic to predict the future of those looking for insurance; she’s a Taster and reads a person’s fate by drinking blood from their lips. When one of the king’s generals shows up at Madam Gray’s home, she’s faced with making a choice: maintain her honor and reputation or lie to the king and stop the war.

Case’s descriptions and world-building throughout are splendid. He somehow manages to weave a wonderfully complex vision for a character without sight in a way that lets us enjoy the story visually. It’s a challenge, but it’s one he’s managed wonderfully. Honestly, it’s probably as challenging as crafting an engaging tale about an insurance salesperson. Overall, a great story and worth your time.

Review: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #277, May 9, 2019

Review: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #277, May 9, 2019

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, May 9, 2019

The Bone Flute Quartet” by K.J. Kabza
The Thirty-Eight-Hundred Bone Coat” by R.K. Duncan

“The Bone Flute Quartet” by K.J. Kabza is a story with the pacing of a tale told round a fire to a group of children. Our narrator, Bretchen, is a youth who wants to be a witch like Myrra Ferrinn, an ancient sorceress who was drawn and quartered for her dark magic. Bretchen’s grandmother, or Ommama, feeds this interest despite her mother’s protestations. After finishing her primary schooling at age eleven, Bretchen is given a choice: go to a knittery and learn that trade or try and apprentice to a witch. When she takes the path of a witch, it’s no surprise.

However, what is surprising is after Bretchen’s trials and tribulations with magic during her adventure, she still chooses to become a witch at the end of the story. Since this read as a child’s tale, I assumed there’d be a lesson of power/corruption, etc., but at the end Bretchen chooses to continue down her previously chosen path, though with open eyes. It’s an interesting choice I’m not entirely sure if I enjoy, but it certainly works.

R.K. Duncan‘s “The Thirty-Eight-Hundred Bone Coat” is a story centered around the idea that severed hands tossed into a river by an ancient tyrant hold mystical properties. Navid’s family takes these ancient hands and molds them into talismans, which they sell to commoners and nobles alike. When a high lord arrives and demands a 3,800 bone coat, Navid, the diver of the family, is in a race against time to find the hands so his family can craft the coat. When he runs out of time, Navid makes a choice to defile a temple in order to increase his chances of gathering the bones they need in time.

The story itself is interesting and engaging, but the ending wrapped up a bit too nicely for my taste. I kept expecting something horrible to happen to Navid after the temple scene, but nothing does. There seems to be no consequence to his action, so I felt let down at the end, like I missed something.

At the very least, he could’ve lost his hands.