Reviewed by Joshua Berlow
“The Grace of Turning Back” by Therese Arkenberg was initially hard to relate to. It scores points for being different, but the locale is so other-worldly that I found it difficult to believe in or care about the protagonists.
The two main characters are fumbling around in an undefined and unfamiliar place. Who are these people? Where are they? Why should we care? We have to stick with the story for a while before we have a clue. “Without knowing where he was, without being anywhere, Aniver found himself disappearing. Lost without perspective or proportion, without sense or logic.” The reader feels the same way.
The two main characters are in The Kingdom of the Dead, where they get help from the Queen of the Dead to build a Grace. The Grace will re-build an old city currently in ruins, Nurathaipolis. There are interesting descriptions of dead souls which inhabit the Kingdom of the Dead, but ultimately you don’t want to poke this story too hard in an attempt to have it make logical sense. It’s interesting insofar as it demonstrates how far fantasy can be stretched from the everyday world we know, but if you’re looking for a story that makes obvious sense from the get-go, this one isn’t for you.
The second story is “The Exile of the Eldest Son of the Family Ysanne” by Kendra Leigh Speedling. It’s a straightforward detective story with a patina of fantasy. One memorable and creative aspect is the way in which dialog is accompanied by a description of how the speaker’s hands are arranged.
The plot revolves around altered “memory stones.” A murder has been committed, and in this fantasy world the last moments of a dead person are able to be magically captured. Obviously this would make murders a lot harder to get away with!
The titular Eldest Son is exiled on the evidence of one of these magically recalled memories. Complications arise when the sister of the Eldest Son comes to the realization that the memory has been altered, something heretofore not considered possible. The possibility that such recalled memories have been altered threatens to bring down the entire justice system. It’s not unlike the dilemma we moderns face with Photoshop. We used to consider photographs good evidence but nowadays it’s often hard to tell if a photo is real or if it’s been photoshopped.
“The Exile of the Eldest Son of the Family Ysanne” is pleasant enough, if not groundbreaking. The previous issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies was so outstanding, it’s a hard act to follow. It’s interesting to see these two stories paired together, as the first is unusual if difficult, while the second is mundane but easier to follow.