“The Boy Who Would Not Be Enchanted” by A. M. Dellamonica
Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia
This double-issue for Beneath Ceaseless Skies‘ eighth anniversary brings us four tightly written fantasy adventure stories that touch in different ways on the story of two characters who fall—or have fallen—or refuse to fall—in love.
“The Boy Who Would Not Be Enchanted” by A. M. Dellamonica is a frolicking fantasy adventure told by stow-away-turned-crew-member Tonio. When captain-spy Gale returns home in answer to a summons, Tonio and second-in-command Garland find themselves kidnapped and faced with an intriguing offer—but only after the spellscribe steals something important from Tonio. Tonio’s narrative gives an interesting perspective on Garland’s character, who is portrayed as the pretty boy who breaks girls’ hearts simply by existing, and who is the one who must accept or turn down the dubious offer. In a subplot, Dellamonica turns a trope on its head by having Gale’s people celebrate old age and menopause the way that many cultures celebrate coming-of-age.
In “The Wind Shall Blow” by Gregory Norman Bossert, Irish singer-enchantress Regan faces the bitter-sweet consequences of her past just as war brews on Scotland’s horizon under King Charles. The story’s premise and resolution, concerning an outsider facing expulsion, follow the dark spirit of Irish folklore, which often leaves one or more characters bereft, while the description and action lend a more modern feel of excitement and intrigue. The interposition of song, the historical war backdrop, and the characters’ discussion of ravens and spirits also harken to traditional Irish and Scottish folklore while adding considerable metaphor and depth.
Rose Lemberg brings us another moving LGBTQIA fantasy piece set in the Birdverse, the novelette “The Book of How to Live.” Lemberg’s love story follows two strangers who struggle to be accepted in a world ruled by magic users. Efronia wishes to attend university to further her non-magical inventions; meanwhile Zilpit-nai-Rinah fights to attain an equal status within her own family unit, her oreg. When Zilpit-nai-Rinah risks leaving her caste’s section of the city to contact Efronia, the collision of their lives leads them both to choices and change. “The Book of How to Live” is about defining one’s self and developing one’s talents regardless of whether others accept you or not. The Birdverse stories stand alone and several have appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies as well as in other publications.
In “A Courtship of Beasts” by Michael Anthony Ashley, young Shams leaves home to find his form in his kind’s traditional coming-of-age journey. After Sham falls in love with Kaafaha, his journey comes to an abrupt halt when he discovers that his father has come to be bedridden in his absence, and the lovers come to disagree over staying at Sham’s family palace or continuing their adventures. Ashley uses the fluid, non-human nature of his beasts to turn metaphor into a physical reality for his characters, giving the piece a feel akin to magical realism. When Sham insists on staying with his father and Kaafaha proposes to leave on her own, the two are in danger of literally growing apart as their forms take divergent evolutionary paths.
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.