“The Thought That Counts” by K.J. Parker
Reviewed by Chuck Rothman
April’s Beneath Ceaseless Skies was a special double issue celebrating 250 issues of the magazine, a pretty impressive run.
K.J. Parker (a pseudonym for a favorite author of mine, Tom Holt, something I didn’t discover until I read the bio at the end of the story) starts things out with “The Thought That Counts, ” the story of a conman/jack-of-all-trades (calling himself Constantius currently) who runs into Sinneva, a girl from the country who is moving to the city with dreams of being an artist. He manages to make his money honestly for once, and discovers Sinneva is on trial for her life for killing several of her patrons in an unusual way. Leaving common sense behind, Constantius offers to act as her lawyer. I absolutely loved the character of Constantius, but what really sells the story is that it veers away from being just a courtroom mystery and into something with some fascinating issues emerging from what seemed to be just a humorous romp. This is a first-class story all the way.
I have a fondness for fantasies set in China and “An Account of the Madness of the Magistrate, Chengdhu Village” by Richard Parks is about Jing, daughter of a diplomat, who has moved to a town with her diplomat father with her companion, Mei Li, a snake devil being trained to be human. Though there’s a story in that itself, the one here involves her father, who finds something very wrong with the Magistrate in charge of the town. He seems mad, but Jing believes it’s something very different. The tale has a real aura of magic in it and is an imaginative read with strong characters that treats its wonders as though it comes from a world full of them.
“Silence in Blue Glass” by Margaret Ronald is about Arthur Swift, who has returned home after recovering from an injury in a war and has to take part in a dinner party arranged by his brother Theo. One of the guests is Mieni, a kobold, who brings a special gift: an orb of glass that mutes sounds. Arthur knows Mieni well—he met her during the war, and became friends even though they were on opposite sides. But one of the guests is found dead, and Mieni is suspected. The biggest problem with the story is that it seems to be part of a series, and assumes that the reader knows about the background, since it’s barely touched on. Maybe reading other stories in the series might help, but ultimately the murder is a British cozy that spends too big a proportion of its length in establishing characters and ends up with something of a perfunctory solution.
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam contributes “Angry Kings” about the Lady Magritte, known as the Lady of Cards, who is returning to her home castle after years fleeing her cruel father. But she has learned the reason for his cruelty and is coming back to fix things. Naturally, things don’t go as she expected. It’s a strong story overall. Magritte’s life is a strong journey of self-discovery that doesn’t go down the expected paths.
Overall, this is an excellent issue, one of the best I’ve seen from Beneath Ceaseless Skies.