Beneath Ceaseless Skies #114, February 7, 2013
Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia
A great issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with a healthy, contrasting mix of fatalism and over-the-top adventure fun.
“Beheaded by Peasants” by James L. Sutter follows princess Alana as she mingles with underground rebels and helps them plan the fall of the monarchy. But when Alana’s father, Lord Erick Young-Allen, First of the Dying, King and Steward of the Appalachian Empire, reveals the Oracle’s prediction of his imminent death, Alana finds her imagined future with the rebels and her lover threatened under the weight of a dying man’s final wish.
Sutter’s story performs excellently on all my favorite points – a strong lead character, mixed genres, and a climax that hinges on a single choice, made of course by the main character. Sutter gracefully demonstrates Alana’s personality, ambitions, hopes, and circumstances as she sneaks out of the castle to meet with citizens who should be, by most accounts, her enemies. Yet, these rebels are not her only antagonists. The kingdom that will pass to her at her father’s death has long been plagued by military conflict with the beastmen, decedents of modern day humans who have been mutated and twisted by the post-apocalyptic hazards of the northern lands. From such descriptions and from the place names and so forth, it is clear that the Appalachian Empire is exactly what it sounds like, a not-too-distant future United States struggling to survive after a nuclear- or world-war-grade disaster. Strictly speaking, you’ll find no magic in this fantasy adventure, but the remnants of modern technology feel and act exactly as magic would in a more traditional fantasy setting. Add in the medieval-esque kingdom woes , and this mixed genre story blooms vibrantly under Beneath Ceaseless Skies‘ promise of Literature Adventure Fantasy.
The final cinch that makes this a superb story? Alana’s dilemma and final solution bring fatalism and free will to a climactic clash that is certain to provoke an unforgettable reaction of the heart and mind.
“The Crimson Kestrel” by Leslianne Wilder features Mademoiselle Ivette du Brielle, a maiden of high birth who loves to discard her voluminous society skirts and don a mask to become The Crimson Kestrel, a wild vigilante who interferes with petty crimes committed in dark peasant streets. We soon see that Ivette is in the crime fighting business mostly for the thrill, which she would have to be, considering that it requires her to repel down sky-scraper tall building to reach what are literally the lowest levels of society. Yet as much fun as she has showing off her martial prowess to the cheers of her gathering fans, Ivette soon finds herself entangled in a crime that is much more important and deadly than any back alley robbery. Since she can’t seem to resist the lure of the mystery, her fate will rest on her ability to determine what, exactly, the crime will be and what her new, charming acquaintance could possibly have to do with it.
Wilder’s writing is peppered with plenty to keep the blood pumping. Flirtation, deadly spider constructs, and superhero style martial arts are just the top of the list. This rollicking adventure is pure fun. You will find no cumbersome, heavy foreshadowing in this comedy of swords, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
Michelle Ristuccia enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to read and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best inspiration and motivation. You can find out more about her other writing projects and geeky obsessions by visiting her blog.