Three Sides of a Heart is not the best anthology I’ve ever read, but it’s surely one of the most interesting and surprising ones. These authors took an overused trope and made something new with it, and while not everyone succeeded, the anthology as a whole worked. I’m neutral about love triangles, but even if you don’t like them, you won’t necessarily hate this – Three Sides of a Heart is about unconventional triangles, the ones you don’t see in full novels. Diverse triangles, polyamory, trope subversion.
The main reason this book surprised me was my own ratings. My experience with anthologies is that most of them have a few really good stories, a few bad ones, and many forgettable ones.
For the most part, Three Sides of a Heart was either brilliant or irredeemably bad.
Riddles in Mathematics by Katie Cotugno: ★★★★¾
This story is about a girl who has recently come out as a lesbian and has a crush on the same girl her brother likes. The writing was lovely, and I could feel the Christmas atmosphere even though Christmas was months ago. Every character was well-developed, even the side ones, and I found this really cute. I also liked how this showed a family that was neither completely supportive or unsupporitve – everything is just very awkward. It felt real.
I had never read anything by Katie Cotugno before but this was really good, so I may try to read a chapter/preview of one of her novels (probably Top Ten) and see how I feel about it.
Dread South by Justina Ireland: ★★★★½
This short story is set in the Dread Nation universe, and it follows a white girl who is falling in love with the black girl who defends her from the zombies – but she’s engaged, and also, racism.
This feels like it could have been from The Radical Element (historical anthology about brave girls), and it would have been the f/f story that anthology really, really needed.
I really liked this, even though it should have been shorter; now I’m even more interested in Dread Nation.
Omega Ship by Rae Carson: ★¼
I had never read anything by Rae Carson before, and I want to read The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but I can’t say this made me want to read it – I hated this.
It’s about three naked people (why), two boys and a girl, the last people who can repopulate a planet. I understood the feminist message, but the casual eugenics and the secondhand embarrassment ruined everything.
You know, the plot-relevant syringe to sterilize people was there “in case the sociopath gene cropped up”. There are so many things wrong with this and I don’t even want to get into them but: no!
Also, can we talk about how humanity has all this futuristic space technology but has not figured out artificial wombs yet? Think about your premises before writing things like these, sci-fi authors.
La Revancha del Tango by Reneé Ahdieh: ★★★¼
This was cute. I loved the setting – you don’t read stories that take place in Argentina that often – and I could feel how much the main character loved to dance. The love interests were kind of boring, though.
I have read The Wrath and the Dawn series by this author, which I liked but didn’t feel strongly about; it was interesting to see how in this story Ahdieh handled a contemporary setting.
Cass, An, and Dra by Natalie C. Parker: ★★★¾
Cass can see the outcome of every choice she makes, and then decide which path she wants to take. The writing was really good and the concept was interesting (a f/f/nb triangle!), but I didn’t know much about the characters and the story ended too abruptly. There was a lot of potential for the character development but there was none – the story focused on the message, instead, and that’s not what I wanted.
I had never read anything by this author before and I’m considering her new novel Seafire that will come out this year.
Lessons for Beginners by Julie Murphy: ★ DNF
This is about a girl who is teaching people how to be a good kisser, and it made me feel the same way Omega Ship did: why would I want to read about something this awkward? I DNFed the story because of the writing, which was even more awkward than the concept.
Annie is Korean-American. Dumb people who don’t know better mistake her for Chinese or, even worse, “Oriental”.
This is othering. Would you introduce a bi character saying “John is bisexual and has a boyfriend. Some think he’s gay because of that, or worse, unnatural”? I don’t think so. I thought this was “how not to introduce a marginalized character 101”, but here we are. I didn’t like Ramona Blue by this author either, but this was worse.
Triangle Solo by Garth Nix: ★ DNF
The writing made me cringe. I have heard good things about Garth Nix and from what I’ve seen everyone hates this short story (I have yet to find someone who liked it!), so I think his writing is usually much better than this. I won’t judge him based on three paragraphs, but this was… bad.
Vim and Vigor by Veronica Roth: ★★★★¼
Veronica Roth really does like near-future sci-fi about simulations, fear, grief and related mental health topics. Vim and Vigor was one of the stories about love triangles that focused less on the love triangle, developing great friendships instead. I loved the “people who claim to love you shouldn’t want you to be a different person” theme. Also, superheroes and fandom.
I never liked Roth’s novels (Divergent is overrated and I’m not interested in Carve the Mark) but I’ve always liked her short fiction – I remember that Inertia was one of the best stories in Summer Days and Summer Nights.
Work in Progress by E.K. Johnston: ★★¼
The writing was good, but I didn’t get the point. If only the author had decided to label the PoVs, I wouldn’t have spent two thirds of the story confused. It’s about three characters, Alex, Tab and CJ, who are not gendered, maybe in love with each other, and facing different choices in three different scenarios.
This confirmed what I thought of this author in That Inevitable Victorian Thing: has great ideas and executes them terribly, has weird priorities and wastes the space she has because of them (I mean, in TIVT she managed to write 100 pages of infodumps and end up with one of the most underdeveloped, problematic worldbuildings I’ve ever read anyway…). I’m not interested in any of her books anymore.
Hurdles by Brandy Colbert: ★★★★¼
I loved this, but the ending was unsatisfying. An open ending in this situation – which was interesting enough you could have written an entire novel with it – felt like a cop out. I really like Brandy Colbert’s writing, but this had the same flaws I found in Pointe: she tried to address too many things in too little space and neglected some aspects because of that.
Anyway, this was about a black girl who is choosing between her perfect life with her perfect boyfriend and family (who make her feel trapped) and a boy she has always liked who wants to run away.
The Historian, The Garrison, and the Cantakerous Catwoman by Lamar Giles: ★★¾
This was unexpected, but also boring and confusing. The only thing I liked about this was the ending; the now-then structure made me understand nothing until I was over halfway through.
This was an urban fantasy story about shapeshifting black teenagers and resurrection. I can’t say more because spoilers and also because I was really confused.
Waiting by Sabaa Tahir: ★★★¾
A nice contemporary romance whose setting and characters weren’t the usual ones but whose plot was really predictable. The atmosphere reminded me of Kiersten White’s story in My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories. I liked the main character’s voice and Saba Tahir’s writing; both love interests were ok (but I didn’t really understand why the main character liked Sam so much).
I liked this author’s debut, but I didn’t feel strongly about it; An Ember in the Ashes is one of the series I’m on the fence about.
Vega by Brenna Yovanoff: ★★★★★
This story is the reason I read Three Sides of a Heart in the first place: it’s a love triangle between a girl, a boy and a city, and this concept reminded me of Cassandra Khaw’s I Built This City For You , which is one of my favorite short stories of all times. The two stories aren’t that similar, and Yovanoff’s Vega isn’t horror, but I can say it didn’t disappoint. The writing was beautiful, the atmosphere perfect – it felt like a dream, almost – and this was one of my favorite stories in this collection.
We never planned for anything or talked about the future anymore. I’d stopped imagining one. And anyway, it wasn’t like it mattered. Or else, it mattered so much I thought my heart would break.
I had never read anything by this author before and none of her past books interest me, but if she will write other books in the future, I’ll consider them.
A Hundred Thousand Threads by Alaya Dawn Johnson: ★★★★½
This one grew on me. I loved the futuristic atmosphere and the plot (politics! revenge!); even the romance was interesting. I would have read a whole book of this, it was so… colorful, and I want more books set in Mexico. I did guess the plot twist and I didn’t like the poetry that was included, but I liked the format – this is told through interviews – a lot.
I’m not interested in Johnson’s novels at the moment, but I’ve heard many good things about her other short stories (her A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i won the Nebula award), so I will probably read them at some point.
Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton: ★★★★★
This was the biggest surprise in the collection, and possibly my favorite story. In just a few pages, Tessa Gratton developed a worldbuilding more complex and interesting than most fantasy novels, with a well-defined and refreshing aesthetic and even details on the character’s religion. The characters were also well-developed, and it’s a queer-, polyam-normative world.
This was about a ruthless princess in love with the girl who is her body double and a boy who saved her brother’s life; it ends in polyamory. Beautiful descriptions, blood and love and poisons. I want to know more about this world and I would read a full novel of this – no, I want it and I would read a trilogy.
If this is what this author can do in a short story, I want to see what she’ll be able to do in a novel, and now I can’t wait for The Queens of Innis Lear.
Unus, Duo, Tres by Bethany Hagen: ★★★★★
A story about polyamorous (m/m/f) vampires in a Catholic school. I guessed the ending the moment Esther’s secret was revealed and I didn’t even care because this was so good. The writing was perfect, the story developed three characters and their relationships perfectly in a very short amount of time, and it made me feel for them. This story was evil, do not recommend.
I had never heard of Bethany Hagen before and her Landry Park series (2014-era dystopian) does not seem like my thing, but I’ll keep an eye out for her future books.
My average rating was 3.52, and I’m rounding it up because it was totally worth my time.