Beneath Ceaseless Skies #334, July 15, 2021

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #334, July 15, 2021

“The Lingering Weight of Estrian Steel” by Rajan Khanna

“A Land of Saints and Monsters” by Isabel Cañas

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Two characters with painful pasts who must face dangerous creatures appear in this issue.

The protagonist of “The Lingering Weight of Estrian Steel” by Rajan Khanna was sent to another land to slay a dragon, in order to obtain a substance to heal his king. Failing in the quest and nearly dying in the process, he was taken in by the locals and built a new life among them. Now another warrior from his former realm appears with the same goal. The protagonist must find a way to avoid being slain as a traitor for his failure while preventing the new arrival from killing the dragon, which is revered by the locals.

Despite the familiarity of its fantasy setting and concepts, the story offers a touch of originality in the ambiguous relationship between the protagonist and the other warrior. At times they work together, at others they are rivals or deadly enemies. This is the most interesting aspect of a tale with a resolution that may strike some readers as predictable and melodramatic.

“A Land of Saints and Monsters” by Isabel Cañas takes place in the western frontier of the Turkish empire in the late Eleventh Century. The narrator is magically enslaved by a Turkish commander. She has the power to break bones with her mind, so he uses her as a warrior in his battles. Her desire to be with her beloved led her to fall into his clutches. When the lover is attacked by a monster, she faces the possibility of having to kill him in order to prevent him from transforming into a similar creature.

There is much more to the plot than I have indicated, much of it revealed in multiple flashbacks. This structure makes the tale difficult to follow. Important parts of the narrator’s past are not revealed until more than halfway through the story, so that the reader finds it hard to empathize with her. The author is an expert on the time and place where the story is set, so this aspect of the work, likely to be exotic to many, is vivid and interesting. The exact nature of the monster, once it becomes clear, is less original.

Victoria Silverwolf has a new cat at home, bringing the total to seventeen.