Mysterion, July 2021
“Bearing the Flame” by C.A. Barrett (7/12)
“Ceiling Snakes and Slithering Saints” by Barbara A. Barnett (7/26)
Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia
C.A. Barrett brings readers a gut-punch portrayal of guilt in “Bearing the Flame.” Basil is so sure he will be chosen to serve the church as a Chandler of Christ with his superior flame magic. When he is left unchosen, his heart is broken, and temptation comes knocking. Barrett skillfully portrays young Basil not as a flatly naive, hoodwinked character, but as a character of full agency who knows well the sin they are choosing as they choose it. Engaging descriptions sit alongside compelling emotions as Basil journeys through the anger of loss, the self-condemnation of failure and sin, and finding the moral line he won’t cross. While some readers may find the Calvinistic (fatalistic) lines and the emphasis on obedience unusual, “Bearing the Flame” is well-tailored for its audience in a Christian SFF magazine, in essence a story about pure motives and the corruption of pain and ego. Subtle allegory holds hands with less subtle references, from damaged candles to an envious tempter named Cain and a St. Silas, a real saint often depicted in broken chains. The magic itself is fascinating, using not only faith to light the flame, but other things, similar to emotion-based magic. A worthy fantasy read that is unapologetically Christian.
In “Ceiling Snakes and Slithering Saints” by Barbara A. Barnett, Reverend Ambrose proposes a practical solution to the snakes suddenly covering the church ceiling, if only he can be heard over the bickering of the elders. Told in the authentic southern drawl of a teen narrator aiding the reverend, readers would have to be blind to miss the sexual hypocrisy of the elders, and that’s before the story even gets to the sexism surrounding the Slithering Saints. This low-fantasy tale opens strong and ends pithy, with a lot of elders posturing in between. It is interesting for its critique of lazy religion, where calling on miracles is not necessarily a sign of strong faith, and also for its patience with the elders as real people, whose largest fault is endangering the needs of the community with their need to shout the loudest and sound most holy, when they themselves are sinners. The southern dialect gives “Ceiling Snakes and Slithering Saints” the feel of a folktale, while the practical solutions and low fantasy ground it as something that could happen in your own backyard. Minus the literal magic ceiling snakes, of course.
Michelle Ristuccia enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to write, read, and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best inspiration. Find her on Facebook and twitter @mrsmica.