Beneath Ceaseless Skies #154, August 21, 2014
Reviewed by Charles Payseur
A fallen angel finds no easy answers in Peter Darbyshire‘s Western-flavored fantastical horror “The Angel Azrael Delivers Justice to the People of the Dust.” Seeking an escape from the routine that comes with his power and long life, Azrael follows a storm to a strange town filled with stranger people celebrating and speaking in an unknown language. At first hesitant to do anything to interfere with them, when a group of skeletal creatures attacks trying to take some children, he steps in and stops them. Of course, his aid turns out to have been misidrected when he discovers the skeletal creatures are actually the villagers, and that ancient entities have stolen their bodies. Trying to make things right without betraying his own code, Azrael takes away the ancient entities’ power to spread, but leaves them and the skeletal villagers and the few remaining true humans to work things out on their own. Though the descriptions are well done and the premise interesting, I didn’t quite feel Azrael himself made a compelling enough protagonist to carry the story. And while I enjoyed reading though it, I wanted to take more away from the story than I ultimately did.
A seer who uses spider venom to gain insights into the future is given a difficult and dangerous assignment in “Seeing,” a fantasy by Stephen V. Ramey. Rahami, once a commoner with low rank, managed to escape the oppression of the her caste when a special spider’s bite failed to kill her. Now something of a thorn in the establishment’s side, she is sent to give a prophecy to an important man, Morshimon, with the instructions that she not tell him more than he needs to know. Facing sabotage and attempted murder, she manages to read Morshimon’s future, and reveals to him the entire truth of his situation, which is dire indeed. The two form a strange bond, and as he leaves to go try and defend their lands from an invading force, Rahami decides to take her own steps to shape her people’s future. A well constructed story, I felt it dragged a little getting to the meat of the conflict, but was satisfied with the journey and enjoyed the result. Full of portent, the prose flowed well and the world-building made the story complex and interesting.
Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of pets in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared at Perihelion Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, and Dragon’s Roost Press.