Beneath Ceaseless Skies #106, October 18, 2012
Reviewed by Cyd Athens
This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies brings us two strong stories about the meaning of justice. Is it vengeance, or is it, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?
There is a proverb, “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Nancy Fulda’s story, “A Song of Blackness,” lets us explore the truth of this. What kind of person goes to the lengths this protagonist, Gaerwin, does? What does that determination say about him? Should he forgive even if he can’t forget? How might he fare differently if he turns the other cheek?
Alas, outside of conjecture, we will never know the answers to these questions. Gaerwin’s course is set from the beginning of the tale. Against his wife’s wishes, he sets off to avenge his paternal grandfather’s murder. Using two magic amulets, he plans to right the generations-old wrong that has deprived him and his family of the life as nobles that Gaerwin believes they should have. The story, however, isn’t so much about Gaerwin’s success as it is about the costs to his very soul. This tale, a gut-punch of a read, forces us to bear witness as Gaerwin finds out whether there are some prices too high to pay for things that, once done, can never be undone.
Nicole M. Taylor’s story, “Hold a Candle to The Devil,” is about a whorehouse. That said, it does not contain any graphic or gratuitous sex. In fact, it contains no sex at all. The house mistress, Florence, is no ordinary Madame. She is the former Madame, Miss Em’s, protégé. And Miss Em, in the twilight of her life, has taken to her bed with an opium addiction. Before she did, however, she taught Florence not to flinch at paying off crooked beat cops or even dabbling in black magic if necessary to protect the stable of working girls.
Thomas, an affluent young man who lives off of a stipend from his steel-magnate father, hurts one of the girls, Alice, by carving his name into her belly. That mistake begins a series of events designed to teach Thomas an unforgettable lesson. There is no question that Thomas did something very wrong. And by the end of this intricately woven story, there is also no question that he will never, ever, do it again.
Cyd Athens indulges a speculative fiction addiction from 45ø 29 30.65 N, 122ø 35 30.91 W.