Beneath Ceaseless Skies #104, September 20, 2012
Reviewed by Cyd Athens
This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies offers two tales where the journeys are almost more important than the adventures.
Being new to Marie Brennan’s world of Driftwood, I found “The Ascent of Unreason” a challenging read. It was unclear whether there were any humans in the story or if everyone was an alien of a different race or species. One of the protagonists was named Last.
At its core, the story is an adventure where two friends, Tolyat and Last, decide to undertake a cartography experiment. After negotiating with the natives for some magic to help them, they end up using a hot air balloon. This made me wonder why the native magic was necessary at all. During the trip, the pair has an unexpected encounter that almost puts an end to their plans and their lives. Had I been more familiar with Driftwood, I might have had a better appreciation for the story. As it was, the tale seemed long on unimportant details, and lacking in areas such as physical descriptions of the protagonists. I would have liked to see the conflict and its resolution expanded. The ending felt abrupt and left me searching for the next chapter.
I find stories where an adult female is a “girl,” while an adult male is a “man,” off-putting. Seth Dickinson does that here. Set in a dragon-spawned, everlasting winter, “Worth of Crows” follows the woman, a necromancer, on her journey to kill the dragon and bring back spring. The title refers to the sustenance and strength the woman gets from devouring dead crows’ souls.
When she encounters a wizard from the North who has also come to ensure the dragon’s demise, the two become traveling companions. The wizard’s failing health draws Death’s attention. There is a longstanding, though fuzzy, relationship between the woman and Death. Sometimes the woman seems to be a disciple; sometimes Death seems to be a sidekick. Death offers to clear the woman’s debt of four lives owed in exchange for the wizard’s life. It felt to me that the closer the wizard got to death, the more the woman’s goal changed. While she still intended to kill the dragon, that was no longer her primary objective. At the end, I was left wanting to know what happened when she met the dragon.
Cyd Athens writes, edits, and reviews speculative fiction from 45ø 29 30.65 N, 122ø 35 30.91 W.