Dragons, Knights, & Angels, # 30

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"Raven" by Mike Duran
"Children of the Falling Stars" by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
"Sorrow’s Shroud" by Rachel A. Marks
"Brierly’s Lilies" by Angie Lofthouse
In "Raven" by Mike Duran, the narrator is an army chaplain who once exorcised a demon to save his wife, Irene. Now his former superior is calling him for a special mission.  

"Raven" suffers from a double flashback structure: within the story, which is told as a flashback by the narrator, is another flashback to the exorcism of Irene. This gives a really wobbly start to this story. The obviously unreliable narrator did not work because he was withholding too much information (notably about his mission, about which he had supposedly been briefed). I spent much of the story piecing together what was happening, and as a result I felt nothing for any of the characters.

As far as Christian SF goes, “Children of the Falling Stars” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is more covert than overt.  Eranta, is a dutiful wife who has followed her scientist husband to a strange planet, heavily in the family way.  A well-meaning neighbour invites her to a strange ritual, where the passage of a star shower is meant to imbue the unborn baby with many good things.

There’s a subtext regarding faith in that-which-seems-strange and the finding of one’s self in a distant and alien place.  This aspect of the work is subtle compared to most efforts in this sub-genre and quite well-considered.

Religious allegory aside, this is not a terribly well-written piece of work.  The dialogue is decidedly clumsy ("The star showers are coming, Eranta.  Do come and join us at the Starcatcher’s Meadow."), the setting seems contrived and amateurish (an unterraformed world with an unsustainable and highly improbable ecology), and there are several red herrings that could simply be trimmed from the plot-line.  All in all, this tale seems incomplete and unsatisfying, but at least it’s not too preachy.  This could have been great with a little bit more work.   
“Sorrow’s Shroud” by Rachel A. Marks rolls off to a great start, with a great protagonist and an elaborate setting.  A slave escapes a life in the salt mines and runs where his guards won’t follow, into a cursed place where a remote village has formed a covenant with a powerful force.  Safety and bounty are theirs, but once every three years they must make a terrific sacrifice for this protection to continue…

The most obvious context to be drawn is a SFnal parallel to the story of Isaac sacrificing his first-born, though this has been jazzed up and given a fantastical setting.  This is a great example of when Christian SF works.  Marks has attained the right amount of subtlety to convey the moral message, but “Sorrow’s Shroud” is a decent story in its own right, with a competent maintenance of narrative tension.  Still a little on the fannish side in terms of overall quality, but easily the best story this reviewer has read on the Dragons, Knights, & Angels website.

"Brierly’s Lilies" by Angie Lofthouse is a story of time traveling: when Tiann’s family is killed in an attack, she finds herself in the woods in an earlier time, and does not know why she is here. Jade, one of the king’s sons, takes Tiann in, and she soon finds herself embroiled in a conflict of succession.

While the characters were for the most part well-drawn (especially Jade), I thought that the connection between Tiann’s and Jade’s time was at best tenuous, and never fully explained. Tiann’s goal is obviously to change the future, but it does not become clear until too late what significance her acts have. And even at the end, although I knew who had sent her back in time, I wasn’t sure why Tiann, specifically, had been chosen.
("Raven" by Mike Duran and "Brierly’s Lilies" by Angie Lofthouse reviewed by Aliette de Bodard, "Children of the Falling Stars" by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and "Sorrow’s Shroud" by Rachel A. Marks reviewed by Jason Fischer.)