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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #198, April 28, 2016

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #198, April 28, 2016

"Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land" by Thomas W. Waldroon

"Whale-Oil" by Sylvia V. Linsteadt

Reviewed by Nicky Magas

Brothers Henry and James have crossed an entire ocean to escape the religious persecution of their native England in "Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land" by Thomas W. Waldroon. At first their new home is a paradise: wide, open spaces, the thrill of adventure and the freedom to explore any dream or ambition they might have. Before long, however, disease and conflicts with the natives begin to take their toll on the small community, and the Puritan settlement discovers that just because they've escaped from one evil, doesn't mean they're free from another.

The beginning of "Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land" has a strong voice and opening that captured my interest straight away. The characters are interesting and I was genuinely eager to read about their adventures. This enthusiasm was difficult to hold onto, however. The narrative is broken up into chunks of time that hand the reader the story of the brothers' lives piecemeal, with every subsequent section giving the reader a new portion of James and Henry's developing characters. However, this style choice and the information that is implied or left out between these time shifts make it difficult to follow the development of the characters. This, combined with the length of the story may lose readers trying to keep track of alliances that are forged or broken between the lines as the colony grows, matures and falls in on itself. I was left feeling a bit disappointed by the end of the story. What captivated me in the beginning was lost in the confusion of the narrative delivery, and made the read tediously long.

The streets of 1880s San Francisco are lit with the oil of marine mammals in Sylvia V. Linsteadt's "Whale-Oil." Sixteen year-old Altair has a talent for seeing the sorts of other world things that no one else can. Call it a remnant of childhood imagination, but one night in the fog-thick streets, Altair looks up to find the tethered souls of hundreds of slaughtered whales and seals, bound to the lamps that burn their oil. Meanwhile, in a marsh out by the ocean, Old Iris stands on her heron's legs for a long-awaited visitor to follow her blue lamp light to her hut. The world has grown too hungry, she knows, and all too soon it will end.

Halfway between historical fantasy and a fairy tale, "Whale-Oil" is an interesting eco-morality story that takes readers back to the beginning days of modern society. I especially liked the scenes with Old Iris, and the folklore-like mystery surrounding her. It took a bit more effort to be drawn into Altair's half of the narrative, which was a bit fractured and rambling in the beginning. Lovers of magical realism and the environmentally conscious will be charmed by "Whale-Oil," as will anyone with a connection to that inner voice that is delighted by a good childhood fantasy.