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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #111, December 27, 2012

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies #111, December 27th, 2012

“His Crowning Glory: a new tale of the Antique Lands” by Noreen Doyle

Reviewed by Barbara Melville

Oh dear. This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies makes for an unfortunate end to 2012. “His Crowning Glory: a new tale of the Antique Lands” by Noreen Doyle is the first story, and the real low point of the issue. Set against a backdrop of oppression, it documents the rebuilding of a temple – and in particular the search for a crucial magical piece. But at its heart it's character driven, with protagonist Jon Fox on a quest to prove his worth. While there’s some interesting plot here, this story is very dry, and at over 15, 000 words, a wearisome reading experience. The real fantasy for me was the idea I could stop and read something else – anything, in fact.

There are several problems on the surface – excessive length, extraneous characters, cultural stereotyping and vast amounts of telling. But deep down, the narration is like a broken vessel which carries and combusts these issues. The piece reads like an academic thesis with storytelling flourishes. While I like the idea of story-meets-essay, it didn’t work for me here. I didn’t feel I was reading narration with a purpose. I felt I was slogging through artifice created by a scholar who is much more comfortable writing nonfiction. This is an immense distraction, and an unforgivable one. I need to be pulled into a world, not stuck outside wondering where it came from.

“The Giants of Galtares” by Sue Burke is the second, and better, of the two stories. Our main character is young noblewoman Sardamira, who has left home in a quest to better herself. On her journey she encounters several questionable people, including two giants. One is good, and one is evil, with the story operating on playoffs between the two. I like this idea in theory, but in practice, it doesn’t do much for me. Did it need to be written? I don’t think so. I’ve seen it all before, and while it isn’t terrible, it isn’t great either.

The narration is fun in places but also amateurish – perhaps an unsolved side effect of having a naive viewpoint character. The flow, or lack thereof, is the biggest surface flaw – it’s like we’re being told this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened too. It all gets a bit much, with rapid scene changes and pile ups of short sentences creating staccato effects and pace issues. But this disappears toward the end as Sardamira develops, and there is some stronger action and description.