Beneath Ceaseless Skies #105, October 4, 2012

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #105, October 4, 2012

“Three Little Foxes” by Richard Parks
“Luck Fish” by Peta Freestone
“Cursed Motives” by Marissa Lingen
“Unsilenced” by Karalynn Lee

Reviewed by Richard E.D. Jones

Beneath Ceaseless Skies celebrates its fourth anniversary in October, and as a nice present for readers, is offering up four new fiction stories for the month. Even though all four stories fall pretty clearly into the vein of classic fantasy, with empires and lords and ladies and magic, there still is enough variation between the stories so you won’t feel as if you’ve fallen into a rut by reading the entire magazine at one go.

I haven’t read many issues of Beneath Ceaseless Skies before. Really only this issue and one other, but they both have something in common. They both contain a superb story by the same author.

“Three Little Foxes” by Richard Parks continues the adventures of Yamada Monogatari, from his previous story “The Ghosts of Shinoda Forest.” Called to the home of Lord Noritomo, Yamada is asked to deal with an infestation of ghosts.

The three ghosts are seen as three women, each looking enough like the others to be sisters. Two of the ghosts gather in Lord Noritomo’s garden and play Go, while the third spirit enters the garden from a different direction and only watches the game.

Yamada has dealt with many different supernatural threats before and quickly understands that these are not ghosts, but sly fox spirits. He must move quickly to discover why the fox spirits continue to haunt the garden of Lord Noritomo before harm comes to the people of the household or the fox spirits themselves.

Parks does a great job with this story. His prose calls to mind what I, as an occidental through and through, associate with the spare and reserved voice of Japanese culture. Even though the story moves at a continual brisk pace, we still get a chance to become quite well acquainted with the various characters, learning to care for them.

While I did think there were a few issues that I would have liked to see fixed (like how Yamada knew so quickly these were fox spirits.), overall this was a charming story that was well worth reading.

In “Luck Fish” by Peta Freestone, we are quick to meet Masozi, a young villager, one of the Fishers, who live in a world where it only rains one day each year. And today is that day.

It is the rain, or rather, what the rain invokes, that gets Masozi’s people through the harshest of the summer months on the planet. The get-started infodump Freestone gives us at the beginning of the story is well told, using the sing-song cadence of the best folk tales. After Brother Sun became angry with the world and dried up the oceans, the three moons, worried for the people, took the last of the fish eggs and hid the roe under the hard-packed earth, only to be released in the rains.

The Fishers count themselves lucky to see the first raindrop, but even more lucky to see the first fish wriggle its way up through the ground to splash in the mud of the rain-drenched streets. And on this Rain Day, Masozi is first to grab this luck fish.

And, like all of the best stories, this one’s about a girl. And another girl. The question of the story becomes whether or not the luck fish was for Masozi or for someone else.

Freestone does a good job of telling the story to the reader in a cadence that calls to mind a spoken story, something passed down alongside the cook fires, as the years turn the once young bent and slow. Perhaps I’m being a bit too poetic in the description here, but I did enjoy her use of language.

The story itself, though, was a bit simplistic. The hurdles Masozi would have to leap, the trenches he would need to climb out of, all were present and accounted for from the beginning of the story. Only the language saved this story from being forgettable. What Freestone says isn’t all that great, but the way she says it. . . .that works.

“Cursed Motives” by Marissa Lingen begins brilliantly, as we learn that being shipwrecked is not as difficult as one might think if one has one’s first- and second-favorite hats, one’s lute and fiddle and an astonishing variety of fruit preserves.

Safy, an Imperial Princess who will never lead because the royal electors consider her to be too frivolous, tells her lady-in-waiting/bodyguard Tip that she had expected much more in the way of crabs gnawing on sailors’ bodies. The only thing she considers to be a hardship is that Safy has no opportunity to use her great gift, the ability to deliver curses.

Our Imperial Princess discovers a dilemma when two shipwrecked foreigners come floating up to the island on which she and the crew are stranded. She curses them with understanding so they can speak her language, only to find out their previously unknown continent has decided to declare war on the Empire. What’s a young Imperial Princess to do?

Well, the answer to that question is fully as wonderful as the beginning of the story would imply. This was such a fun, funny and impish story. It felt full of the joy of writing, finding something fabulous and then sharing it with the world.

If you have an irreverent bone in your body, you will love this story. Right here and now, I’m asking Marissa Lingen to get to work on another story of Safy and her bodyguard. There needs to be more of this. Much, much more.

In “Unsilenced” by Karalynn Lee we again meet with an imperial princess, but this one has only just now ascended to the status of Empress, with the demise of her one-eyed father. Even though he had only one eye, it was said of the late emperor, that eye beheld only justice.

How, then, could the new Empress live up to that? Already, only a month after her father’s death, she feels it all slip away, as her unacknowledged half-brothers and half-sisters begin maneuvering to take her place.

The answer, she seemed to think, was to strike a bargain with one of her world’s four mages, the Basilisk. He would trade her voice for the voice of a mad mage, whose very words become reality. Thus empowered, the new empress would seem to have everything she desired, but life, even in a story, is more complicated than we think.

Although the ending of the story was, I thought, a bit too pat, with things falling just so into place, it still was a pleasant journey. Well written, the story definitely goes into the win column for Lee, an author who I’ll be on the lookout for in the future.

Happy anniversary to Beneath Ceaseless Skies and thanks for the great present.