Beneath Ceaseless Skies #288, October10, 2019

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #288, October 10, 2019

“The Edges of the World” by Grace Seybold

“Under Their Wings, These Starving Ghosts” by Grace Yang

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Two stories about characters enduring estrangement from their former lives appear in the latest issue of this magazine of literary adventure fantasy.

In “The Edges of the World” by Grace Seybold, an alchemist lives in comfortable exile for many years, after offending the ruler of the Empire as a young man. His daily activities consist of writing to an old friend, caring for a pond full of turtles, and working on a secret project, all under the watchful eyes of the Empire’s soldiers. By the end of the story, the reader learns something about the friend, and witnesses the alchemist undergo a final transformation.

This is a quiet tale, full of introspection and with very little action. The protagonist is an appealing character, with whom one can readily empathize. Hints early in the story make the denouement predictable. As a whole, the piece works better as a character study than as fantasy.

The main character in “Under Their Wings, These Starving Ghosts” by Grace Yang is dead. Once a year, when swallows migrate overhead, he returns as a ghost. Over the course of several years, he develops an awkward friendship with a witch, who is herself dead, but able to remain in the living world year round. She leads him to his grave, where he remembers his life and death.

The plot is episodic, revealing bits and pieces of the characters and their world in each segment. The author displays a vivid imagination, as well as the ability to create a colorful fantasy setting. The protagonist, although he learns something about his past, changes very little from the beginning of the story, which may frustrate some readers.

Victoria Silverwolf wonders if the fact that both authors have the same first name is just a coincidence.