Beneath Ceaseless Skies #125, July 11, 2013
Reviewed by Stevie Barry
“Two Captains,” by Gemma Files, is a story at once intriguing and disturbing. It deserves a trigger warning, as it involves non-explicit rape. Set on the high seas in a world that’s a mingling of alternate history and fantasy, a pirate captain finds a prisoner in the hold of the ship he’s just captured. This prisoner turns out to be a wizard who had been on his way to execution, as magic and its practitioners are outlawed.
The captain gives the wizard the chance to heal himself, only to turn around and rape him as soon as it’s clear he won’t die. The rest of the story revolves around the wizard’s slow-building revenge, which ultimately ends badly for everyone involved. I thought the captain was a character who was quite easy to hate, and not just for the actions he takes. The wizard’s revenge is outright gruesome, but I couldn’t help but root for him nonetheless. It’s a fairly unnerving story, but that’s part of why I enjoyed it.
Sylvia Linsteadt‘s “Else This, Nothing Ever Grows” reads much like a fairytale, beginning as a form of “Beauty and the Beast.” A man is chosen by a troll who curses him to be a bear by day, man by night. He finds a poor man who has failed to mine gold in the Sierra Nevadas, and offers him wealth if he’ll hand over his youngest daughter.
From there, though, the story takes on a very different and original tune. The girl is put through trials worthy of any fairytale, but the ending is harsh and unexpected, worthy of any of the Grimm brothers’ original stories. It’s a wonderfully, deeply twisted tale that I liked immensely, with supernatural entities who use the star-crossed lovers’ plight as a kind of entertainment to themselves.