Tangent Online

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #233, August 31, 2017

E-mail Print

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #233, August 31, 2017

"Across Pack Ice, a Fire" by Marissa Lingen

"Gallows Girl" by Mel Kassel

Reviewed by Jason McGregor

"Across Pack Ice, a Fire" by Marissa Lingen

Two kingdoms are at war while a third is neutral. The protagonist (nominally a sorceress) is a native to the neutral land while her adopted daughter is from the one being ravaged by the evil empire. That girl had been used as an unwitting plague carrier which resulted in the death of the woman's husband, a doctor. So the woman plans her revenge.

The tale seems quite professional and publishable and contains some subtlety but, despite being about troubled children, dead husbands, and countries at war, simply didn't grab me. Also, the magic is cosmetic and the "secondary world" is clearly a prosaic Scandinavia, so people looking specifically for magical otherworlds probably won't be grabbed, either. That said, if the scenario and characters do grab the reader, they'll probably enjoy the whole.

"Gallows Girl" by Mel Kassel

There's more than cosmetic magic and the setting is far weirder than your usual Weird West in this tale of the Gallows Girl. She lives in a society in which men are hanged and, waiting below them on her own platform, is the Gallows Girl, who comforts them with her innocence and eases their passages. There's a dirty little secret to all this, though, and when our heroine discovers it, she must decide if she's going to be a "good Gallows Girl."

The story creates a compelling protagonist and puts her in a bizarre scenario filled with darkness, light, death, guns made out of the bones of loved ones, terror birds and monster sloths. It gradually complicates before breaking out into a violent magical showdown. There are perhaps only two real problems. It seems to describe a method of hanging that should surely result in near-instant death by broken neck (if not decapitation) while relying on the results of slow death from suffocation, conflating two different methods of hanging. More importantly, the whole tale is an extremely elaborate invention to result in something about as simple as the Friends episode where the female half of the cast read a pop feminism book and go around telling the guys (and each other) not to "steal their wind." Still, it's such an experience that it has to be recommended.


More of Jason McGregor's reviews can be found at Featured Futures.