Beneath Ceaseless Skies #50, Aug. 26, 2010

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #50
August 26, 2010

“And Blow them at the Moon” by Marie Brennan
“Winecask Bellies and Owl Wings” by Liz Coleman

Reviewed by Caroline E. Willis

“And Blow them at the Moon” by Marie Brennan is a historical fantasy about a “grim” and the Gunpowder Treason Plot. Magrat is a church grim, a fairy that haunts a church and reveals to the living whether the souls of their dead are going to heaven or hell. Magrat used to haunt Hyde Abbey, but this is Protestant England and the abbey has long since been destroyed. Magrat has been reduced to following Father Garnet across the country as he ministers to his flock in secret.

Magrat discovers, much to her surprise, that she likes Father Garnet. She also discovers that he is going to die. “And Blow them at the Moon” tells the story of what happens when Magrat begins to meddle in mortal affairs.

You don’t need Wikipedia open to enjoy this story; Brennan does an excellent job weaving fantasy and history into a seamless plot. Magrat is as much a stranger to 17th century politics as any modern human, so her questions are our questions, and her questions lead relentlessly to the conclusion of the Gunpowder Plot. Worth a read.

“Winecask Bellies and Owl Wings” by Liz Coleman reads like an invocation. It is something between a story and a spell; it is the death of a witch in her own words.

The bones of it are the story of an evil witch confined to a cave, and her efforts to escape. It is a short but powerful piece that deals with themes of revenge, family, lust and ambition. Coleman tells the story using the hypnotic voice of the witch herself, resulting in something that could easily be taken for poetry. “Winecask Bellies” is a beautiful work, but don’t read it on a stormy night. The narrator is a wicked witch, after all.