Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #363 (2022)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, ed. Scott H. Andrews. Issue 363 (August 2022). Online at beneath-ceaseless-skies.com.

Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha

If you tried to reverse engineer the contents of Issue 363 of the literary adventure fantasy online magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, you might find a writing prompt in your hand: tell a tale of thwarted immortality. That probably isn’t actually the origin of the two new stories published in the issue, of course. It’s more likely that an editor decided that these two new stories belonged together because of that similarity at their core. Either way, what’s interesting is that these two new stories taking thwarted immortality as a premise are nothing like each other.

In “Imagine a Thief with Golden Fire in Their Voice” by Riley Neither, the plot follows a young wizard who refuses to resurrect their mighty—and seemingly saintly—mentor, much to the righteous anger of her ardent followers. That is the immortality thwarted. But really, this is a story about those lowly, vulnerable, and, in society’s eyes, untrustworthy who’ve been selected for abuse by the powerful, holy, and revered. It is also about the strength and power it takes to rebuild yourself, heal your wounds, and find the voice you need to speak your truth and be believed. And about how sometimes before you can do this, you have to take yourself totally apart. Only then can you put yourself back together again.

Adam Breckenridge’s “The Death Artist” is more interested in what it takes to kill what cannot be killed. In this case, the defier of death is a bird-person who was touched by the sun and can now fly without break. In the world of this story, this means that the grounded shadow of death literally cannot reach them to end their life. But all beings must end, and so the bearer of the shadow of death who’s been called to take this case hatches a plan that calls for ingenuity, but also puts his own life on the line. If there are life lessons here, I did not find them, beyond ‘all things must pass,’ or, ‘no dare, no flair,’ perhaps.

Meanwhile, the third tale included in the issue is. “Seasons Set in Skin” by Caroline M. Yoachim, which is a reprint from Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ very own Issue 177 (from 2015), explores the mirror of the theme, telling a tale more of thwarted mortality than of thwarted immortality. In this story of how an inability for two sides to hear (much less listen) to each other can tragically prolong a horrible war, two human sisters die fighting the faeries. But they’ve had talismanic head-to-toe tattoos inked upon them with faery blood by their mother. That means there’s no resting in peace. Instead, they end up resurrected in order to rejoin the battle. Life’s a bitch, and so is death. A fun time was most definitely not had by all.

The only other thing there is to say about this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is that, as is normal for their issues, if you prefer to listen to your literary adventure fantasy tales, there is a podcast. Both the new story “Imagine a Thief with Golden Fire in Their Voice” and the reprint, “Seasons Set in Skin,” can be listened to on the website.

At any rate, however it is you choose to consume the stories offered up by issue 363 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, you will be entertained in the midst of that moment when life turns into death and maybe even sometimes turns back into life again.

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