The Soft Room by Karen Heuler

This is the story of twin sisters, Meg and Abby. The relationship between the two feels authentic–the struggle between siblings, the definition of themselves in one another.

Abby is the eldest twin, a natural leader who’s often upstaged by her sister. Meg steals the attention because of a lack–she doesn’t feel pain.

The story gets going in suburbia, with Abby and Meg running around the neighborhood and nearby undeveloped lot with friends. Abby’s more cautious than most, having to keep an eye out for Meg’s wounds–after all, without feeling them, she could be grievously injured and not notice it. Meg’s bold–without pain, she can steamroll ahead directly and take risks others blanch at.

The characters are more than the keeper/immune to pain descriptor–I really enjoyed the story from both points of view. The divergence in personality and its roots make sense.

The break, where the book enters Part II, feels like a huge break, even though it only skips ahead a year or two.

In the end, I loved the characters and the development. The titled “soft room” only emerges in the final dozen or so pages, but really underscores the transformation that Meg undergoes.

The Inner City by Karen Heuler

It’s a collection of interesting, slightly surreal stories, often with great twists. The stories tend toward the dark–the weirdness is more magical realism than urban fantasy.

I enjoyed it, but the stories didn’t make a deep impression. Part of that was probably a defensive crouch, worried about the dark turn the story was going to take.

Reread: The Last Herald Mage trilogy and Oathbreakers

Reading Blue Rose made me crave my favorite romantic fantasy series, The Last Herald Mage. The Last Herald Mage was my introduction to Lackey and Valdemar, sparking introspection in my early 20s, and remaining a touchstone ever after.

I’ve reread the Last Herald Mage so often that I remember all of the broad strokes–but the fine details are always sharp and surprising when I encounter them again.

Tarma and Kethry are great, though the first book’s fits and starts were pretty obvious on this read through. I’ll pop into the Arrows trilogy and see how Talia’s doing next.

Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

Three parallel stories of downtrodden women in three eras. Our first (and to me, primary) story is set on Haiti in the era of slavery. The second story is an actress struggling to survive in pre-revolution France, while the third is of a slave in Roman occupied Egypt.

All three are well told; there’s a great deal of immediacy. Childbirth matters a lot to all three… and the odd spirit framing device between them.

It’s a heavy book, but very well told. Your empathy gets quite a workout.

Blue Rose: AGE

Well written, I really like the system and the broad strokes setting. I was immediately reminded of Lackey’s tales; there’s a lot of world that’s Valedemar with the serial numbers filed off.

It’s the AGE system; 3d6+Stat, doubles result in stunt points (so about 1 in 4 checks). It keeps the three class structure from d20 Blue Rose; experts, warriors, and adepts. The choices are all strong and interesting–though, like Star Wars–who doesn’t want to wield magic?

Conviction, destiny, and fate are all interesting–not overwhelmingly dominant, but cool ways to accent a character and tempt them. Similarly, Shadow and corruption are more solid that Lackey’s novels… but encourages a game-able problem solving.

It’s joined my active pool of games that I’m interested in moving forward with; AW:2e and Wrath of the Autarch are the other two.

Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress

A great collection of short stories–but then, I love Nancy Kress’s writing, so it’s not surprising that I enjoyed these too.

The Erdmann Nexus is a quirky story about a big threshold event, but what makes it so interesting are the main characters. It’s centered on an old folks home, with a wide variety of ability levels and togetherness–but interesting, rich, lived characters. It’s the longest; maybe a novelette?

The Kindness of Strangers is mostly about a group of people, trapped, trying to survive. The inexorable backdrop is interesting, as is the population reduction throughline.

By Fools Like Me is a quirky post-apocalyptic tale, mostly about a grandmother and granddaughter. It’s simpler, with a scathing look at superstitions.

First Rites was an interesting tale of sacrifice and genetic engineering, mostly told from the POV of a shunned woman who is returning to back country China as the book starts, and her American cousin–and the child they share responsibility for. It’s interestingly told, with a final twist that feels… unearned, but that’s not really right. Maybe it just went too fantastic.

End Game is an interesting meditation on focus and genius… and the role of serendipity and stray thought. It doesn’t end well for the world…

Images of Anna is about a woman who runs a photography studio, who meets a woman whose photographs never show her. There’s fascination and strangeness as she sets out to discover what caused the weird photo manipulation…

Laws of Survival is about scrabbling life in the domes, and an odd out… plus the mystery of unraveling who the aliens are and what they’re aiming for.

Safeguard is an interesting story about creating a sealed world… and what happens when that breaks up. There’s good reason to keep the kids sealed away…

Fountain of Age is longer, a winding and complicated and fun tale. It too starts in an old folks home, but Max isn’t a normal hero. He has a twisty past, and knew an important woman well… both of which we visit in extensive flashbacks and a roaming tale. It’s a very interesting future; life extension is tricky!

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

A cool, cynical tale of first contact with the complexity of modern politics and international relations.

I really liked the characters, both human and alien. Our POV character is a minor middle aged geneticist, suddenly and surprisingly catapulted to the big time–though at terrible cost.

Her relationships with her three children are well done; even the naer-do-well kid has interactions and relations that feel authentic from a trying, striving but failing, effort.

Plus, the twist at the end is awesome and deserved.

Sister Emily’s Lightship by Jane Yolen

An interesting short story collection; all well told and interesting without requiring buy-in from previous works. There’s a lot of twisted fairy tales, but a number of other great story styles too.

The Traveler and the Tale
Snow in Summer
Speaking to the Wind
The Thirteenth Fey
Granny Rumple
Blood Sister
Journey into the Dark
The Sleep of Trees
The Uncorking of Uncle Finn
Dusty Loves
The Gift of the Magicians
Sister Death
The Singer and the Song
Lost Girls
Belle Bloody Merciless Dame
Words of Power
Great Gray
Under The Hill
Godmother Death
Creationism: An Illustrated Lecture
Dick W. and His Pussy – A brief, fun farce
Become a Warrior – An interesting tale about being left behind when war comes… and making your own terms for dealing with it.
Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn – A fun little story about giving wishes back and commitment
A Ghost of an Affair – An odd time travelish story, with great place feel
Sister Emily’s Lightship – An interesting episode from a quiet life, very influenced by the author’s location and exposure to Emily Dickinson.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

A story of a thief in Camorr, from his orphaning as a kid and an early life of street crime to the fleecing of the richest Dukes of the city.

This would be an excellent Thieves Guild campaign in D&D–but better than that bare recommendation. We see a city with a unique history; thieves who prey on all but the nobility, due to a secret peace. (I think Tamora Pierce has a similar setup in her Hound series.)

By delving deep into the guild, we get to see the interlocking nature of the various thieves–the young orphan penny snatchers, bruisers, false priests and stupendous con men.

More than anything, though, it’s the tale of a fascinating kid who dreams big. There’s a nice flashback structure to the middle half of the book, with lots of asides and learning how everyone fit together.

Oh, the city’s fantastical and creole; it felt lively and strongly influenced by New Orleans. It felt like a real place, with interesting hierarchies and business that made sense as more than just people for the heroes to fleece and trick.

There were a number of things hinted at but not delivered–like Lamora’s missing love–that I can imagine a sequel.