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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #55, November 4, 2010

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #55
November 4, 2010

"Bread and Circuses" by Genevieve Valentine
"The Popinjay's Daughter" by Anne Cross

Reviewed by Rena Hawkins

"Bread and Circuses" by Genevieve Valentine is set in a bleak, post-apocalyptic world where the inhabitants of a walled city struggle to grow enough grain to feed themselves. Tom, who narrates the story, has spent his life inside the city walls, never realizing how much he feels like a prisoner until the circus arrives. The circus is a perfect allegory for freedom, adventure, living; all the things Tom has never had the chance to experience. Valeria, a performer, leaves the circus to become the city's new baker, a job far more dangerous than she can imagine. She and Tom must try to outwit Crane, the city's magistrate, a murderous combination of cult leader and dirty politician.  

Some readers might find the author's writing style of short, abrupt paragraphs which skip around in time hard to follow, but I urge you to stick with it--the story is worth the effort. I applaud the author's skill at giving the story a heightened sense of drama and tension without going overboard with her descriptions. "Bread and Circuses" is a beautiful, subtle tale that covers an amazing amount of time, background, and emotion in a little over 4,500 words.

In "The Popinjay's Daughter" by Anne Cross, we meet Ghost, a young man who has been imprisoned in The House of the Mad Russian, headquarters of the Popinjay Society, for seven years. Ghost is held prisoner by the House's magic doors.  Although the secret to the House and its magic doors are contained in the books of the library, Ghost was never taught to read. Joining him as a fellow prisoner is Magdalena Selworth, a very pregnant woman betrothed against her will to Master Francis Ramond, a member of the Society. Magdalena teaches Ghost to read and he is finally able to learn the spells he needs. When Magdalena's daughter, Theresa, is born in the House, will the baby's special magic help Ghost escape?

I really enjoyed "The Popinjay's Daughter" and the story should please any fantasy fan. I especially liked the explanation of the magical doors and how they operated. I always want "rules" with my magic. If anything goes, where's the challenge?

I'll end by saying that I'm a big fan of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  This e-zine offers terrific stories and breathtaking cover art. I look forward to reading and seeing more.