“Suddenwall” by Sara Saab
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
This issue of a publication dedicated to “literary adventure fantasy” features two stories dealing with the aftermath of war, both featuring protagonists who must face the consequences of their actions during violent conflict.
“Suddenwall” by Sara Saab is narrated in a series of flashbacks which jump back and forth in time. In the city of Camillon, some persons are born destined to be Ruumari, speakers of a language different from that of the majority. They go outside the city to live among others who share their tongue. After an act of terrorism destroys the city’s temple, a war of extermination begins against the Ruumari. When it is over, the city of Vannat is created as a home for those who bear the guilt of genocide. Those who dwell within it are considered to be purified, but must obey the city’s unspoken rules, or else be sealed away behind walls that appear around them without warning. When an old friend and fellow soldier is trapped behind such a wall, the main character confronts their shared past.
The story’s narrative technique requires careful reading to avoid confusion. It seems to be allegorical, though the exact nature of its symbolism is not entirely clear. Although it takes place in a world where war is fought by archers on horseback, the temple is said to have been the target of a bomb, making comparisons with current events impossible to avoid.
Bombs are also used to attack a city in “Ghosts of Amarana” by Kurt Hunt. In this case the narrator is one of those responsible for the devastation, in the form of explosives smuggled into Amarana within the bodies of men and women. Once again the reader is reminded of modern forms of terrorism. Held prisoner after this act of destruction, the main character is haunted by the ghosts of those he has killed. After an elaborate escape arranged by his brother, the protagonist is asked to once again use his surgical skills to make people into living bombs; but the ghosts have other plans.
Despite the presence of the spirits of the dead, which might be interpreted as the pangs of the narrator’s conscience, this story has the feel of science fiction, particularly in the way in which technology is used to transform the human body. We are never told the reason for the attack on Amarana, and it seems likely that this is deliberate, in order to make it stand for any act of terrorism.
Both offerings from Beneath Ceaseless Skies are grim and brooding meditations on the nature of violence. Each is written in a deliberately literary style, sometimes at the expense of clarity. Neither is light reading. Instead, they must be perused slowly, with little expectation of optimistic conclusions.
Victoria Silverwolf lives on a wooded hilltop in the southeastern corner of Tennessee with one human and sixteen cats.