An SF novella set in the Diving universe. It’s set before the second book in th series, City of Ruins, and you don’t have to read the books to enjoy this story.
The novella is written in first person and mostly in the present tense. The POV character is the starship Ivoire’s main linguist, and the ship’s captain’s ex-wife. Her name isn’t mentioned in this novella but it’s Mae.
Mae is one of three people who are still alive from her group of twenty seven linguists. They went down to a planet to meet with and learn from people who are reputed to be extremely violent. Mae returned caked in blood and no memory of what happened to her and the rest of her team. She isn’t told what the other survivors say. Mae has kept herself confined to her quarters and she refuses all contact from her family and friends. She doesn’t want to remember and thinks that she should have been left behind on the planet where the team died rather than being brought back to the Ivoire. Then the medical evaluation unit sends a team to her and Mae wants a legal representative.
We get to know a lot about the Fifth Fleet from the POV of the people who live there. They live on the ships which roam around the space helping people who need it.
This universe doesn’t have aliens but it has a lot of planets colonized by humans, but such a long time ago that they have developed their own languages, technologies, and cultures.
Since she was a child, Mae has been curious. She wants to know about new cultures and she especially loves learning new languages. However, in this story, she has been severely traumatized which has made her curl inward. She’s still a fighter, though.
A novella set into the same world as “Dragon’s Tooth” but before it.
Tara Miller is the best magical troubleshooter the Abracadabra Inc. has. She has a strong work ethic and is overworked because of it. When the manager of Le Petit Chatêau calls her and tells her he might have an Assassin’s Dagger on his hands, Tara has no choice but to get on the first train, abandoning her first good night’s sleep in three weeks. The dangerous dagger had been left to the magic shop with a refund demand – for a purchase which had been apparently made 150 years ago.
The dagger could be real or a fake, and it if it’s real it could be one of three different daggers. Tara has to find out just what she’s dealing with without triggering the item’s lethal powers and that’s a challenge by itself. However, when she gets to town, she finds out that the store’s manager is strangely reluctant to help her and hasn’t been following Abracadabra’s guidelines. Abracadabra owns the store and wants it to be aboveboard and accessible even to people who don’t believe in magic.
Tara is the same, efficient and competent character as in the “Dragon’s Tooth”, and I really enjoyed seeing her in action. She’s careful with magical things she doesn’t know much about and even though she’s very good at her job, she doesn’t allow it to make her arrogant or overconfident.
The story has a very limited cast of characters: mostly just Tara and Chartier, the store’s manager. However, Tara has a large network of people whose expertize she can rely on when needed. This was a good way to show a glimpse of the magical world around the characters and it also fits her profession.
The world is our modern world but with working magic which seems to be hidden from the mundane folk. Unlike in many other fantasy stories set in the modern day, the magic and the technology aren’t struggling against each other, and Tara uses laptops and smartphones as easily as anyone else.
Another great, tightly plotted short story which has a dash of humor, too.
Wander Home is set in an afterlife. The story centers on Eleanor and her family: her daughter Cassandra, grand-mother Amanda, her parents Sarah and Jack. All her life, Eleanor has been restless, looking for something or someone she can’t find. She desperately wanted a child but even Cassandra wasn’t enough to satisfy Eleanor’s wander lust. Essentially, she abandoned Cassie to her parents and grandparents to raise. Also, Eleanor has never been able to find a man for herself. She was able to find a man for a while but eventually she would leave him. Unfortunately, Cassie’s life was spent waiting for her mother to return. She never did.
Then, Cassie, Sarah, Jack, and Amanda died in a car accident and Eleanor was even more miserable than before. A few month later, Eleanor died of a heart attack. Her family has been waiting in the afterlife to welcome her. But things aren’t easy, not for Eleanor and not for Cassie.
At the start of the book, Amanda meets Eleanor and shows her around in the afterlife. Eleanor has to accept what has happened to her but she’s anxious about meeting her parents and daughter.
The afterlife is very different from any religious descriptions, at least as far as I know. The people can age themselves how ever they want, even to an age they didn’t reach when they were alive. Cassie died when she was just six years old, but here she can age herself to teenager, to her thirties, and older. When people change their ages, their emotional and intellectual maturity changes, too. So, when Cassie is afraid that her mother is going to leave her again, she changes herself back to a frightened four year old. The people can also visit their own memories or other people’s memories. Since there are people from the whole of human history in this afterlife, there are a lot of places and times to visit. Jack and Sarah traveled all over the world and I loved to visit all of the places with them. The descriptions were vivid.
The people also experience new things and grow here; they aren’t stuck to anything they did or didn’t do while they were alive. For the most part, anyway.
Wyle writes this story without once referring to spirits or souls. Religion is touched on only near the end. The story is centered on Eleanor trying to come to terms with the consequences of her actions. The people around her are very supportive and forgiving; they are trying to help her heal. Cassie has already made friends with other people and has a life of her own, yet of course she’s also trying to understand her mother. There’s a twist in the story, too. Unfortunately, I saw that one coming.
The writing is very clear even though with a setting like this, it would have been easy to lose the reader. I was never lost about which character’s memories I was reading or about whose point-of-view it was experienced from. The writing is just lovely.
The author kindly gave me a review copy.