Beneath Ceaseless Skies #341, October 21, 2021

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #341, October 21, 2021

“A Manslaughter of Crows” by Chris Willrich

“The Last Days of Summer in the City of Olives” by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Two stories that are very different in mood, fantasy content, and length appear in this issue.

The narrator of “A Manslaughter of Crows” by Chris Willrich is a cat, one of those who have, in mysterious fashion, been granted increased intelligence. Some of these enhanced felines work for the ruler of the land as investigators. They are able to communicate with some gifted humans, as well as other animals.

The narrator becomes involved in a case involving an alchemist killed by a flock of birds. The tangled plot involves a seagull, a dog, a balloonist, and a motley assortment of other characters. The investigation leads the cat deep into a web of political intrigue that threatens to end the land’s slow progress to a more representative form of government.

As the wordplay in the title may indicate, the tone of the story is tongue-in-cheek, although the issues at stake are of great consequence. There are jokes and puns throughout the narrative, some of them groan-worthy.

The highly detailed setting is full of fantasy concepts, many of them of no importance to the plot. There is mention of goblins, for example, but they play no role in the story. Certain allusions to things in the real world, such as calling the drawing of political districts to favor one party “salamandering,” an obvious reference to the practice of gerrymandering, take one out of the imaginary world. Many readers are likely to enjoy the tale’s lighthearted mood, but others may find it difficult to remain completely engaged throughout a full-length novella.

“The Last Days of Summer in the City of Olives” by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko is a much shorter and far more serious tale. The protagonist is the sister of the tyrannical ruler of her native land. (They are twins, but the tyrant was born first, and is thus able to claim the throne.) In order to avoid any possibility of conflict, the ruler pays for the younger sister to attend medical school in another country. When the monarch’s despotic rule leads to civil war, a representative of the rebels visits the younger sister, asking her to return and take the tyrant’s place. The protagonist is reluctant to act, but sudden violence leads to a decision on her part.

As this synopsis suggests, there is no fantasy content in the story except for the imaginary setting. Despite this fact, it is an engrossing tale, with richly developed characters and a thoughtful look at pacifism and responsibility. The main character’s solution to her dilemma is a far more subtle and sophisticated one than is usually found in stories of warring armies.

Victoria Silverwolf does not like olives.