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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #167, February 19, 2015

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies # 167, February 19, 2015

Madonna,” by Bruce McAllister
Y Brenin,” by C. Allegra Hawksmoor

Reviewed by Douglas W. Texter

In “Madonna,” Bruce McAllister delivers a medieval religious fantasy story. Set in a late-middle-ages Sienna, Italy, “Madonna” imagines a world in which presumably vampire-like Drinkers of Blood dominate Rome and threaten to control all of Christendom. Pursued by the forces of both demonic evil and political power are two boys, one a “child pope” named Bonifacio, the other, Emilio, the Emissary of La Compassione’s spirit to the world. Emilio’s skin lights up in the presence of Drinkers and can cure dying people, as events turn out. The two boys arrive in Siena during the Palio—a horse race in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano. The travelers then encounter a strange boy—Gian Felice Rottini--who rides in the race. The boy, who tells them a strange tale about his sister running off with a lover, takes them home, where his father lies dying. Emilio cures Gian’s father. Then it turns out that the boy rider is really a girl, Caterina, and, truly, much more than just a girl. Functioning as a kind of origin story of a trio that is going to do much bigger things and fight very big battles, this story reads as an episode of a much longer tale. As a stand-alone story, it doesn’t really work for me because I ended the tale with as many questions as when I began it.

In “Y Brenin,” C. Allegra Hawksmoor presents a very dark tale of brotherly intrigue and homoerotic love. The story opens in medieval Wales with a knight, Ser Mercher, capturing the Red King, Edling Goch. The knight attempts to bring the wounded Goch north to the lands of King Gwyn, the Red King’s brother and the knight’s lover. The two men trudge through an incredibly bleak and blighted landscape, almost always at each other's throats and once at each other's lips. The two men have met before: Goch had appointed Mercher, along with other guardsmen, to watch over Gwyn when Goch had imprisoned him in a tower. But Mercher helped Gwyn to escape and had been knighted for his efforts. Gwyn now rules over the north while Goch controls the south, and war rages between the two lands. The tension between Goch and Mercher on this trek is exquisite, as is the dialogue between the two. The journey northward and the plot take an unexpected turn at Y Brenin. Dealing with very raw emotions and desires, this story, while containing no real fantasy elements, is well worth the read.