Today, I’m reviewing three Tor.com novellas that came out this year, In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh and Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan.
In an Absent Dream is a cautionary tale about the dangers and consequences of indecision. You go into it knowing – or at least strongly suspecting – what’s going to happen, and that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking or impactful, because its tragic nature doesn’t live in a twist or in a revelation, but in how easily avoidable on a superficial level and completely inevitable deep down its ending felt.
This is a story about being caught between two worlds, about the inherent unfairness of having to choose paired with how it would be unfair to the people around you not to – because you can’t live in two worlds at the same time.
I think every reader can relate to Lundy’s struggle on some level. I think most of us have dreamed, at some point or another, to be able to escape to a magical world. After all, it’s what this series is about. It’s easy, and this book acknowledges that, to think that choosing one world over another would be painless when one isn’t actually confronted with that choice.
Lundy, unlike most people, is given that choice – and in a modern culture that values individual choices as the pillar of freedom, it’s really interesting and chilling to see how having to choose tears her apart.
I feel like we often overlook the role and power of communities even when we talk about agency and how a character’s choices should be the ones to drive the story, so this book is, if anything, a necessary reminder.
This novella also made me think about fairness, about whether something like that can ever really exist. The world of the Goblin Market is fair, supposedly – but is it really? It certainly highlighted a lot of flaws in our own, but it’s still not a place I would ever want to be in. I think most humans need some unfairness to exist and not be stifled by rules, but unfairness is a bad thing (now I’m thinking about the intermediate disturbance hypothesis in ecology and maybe humanity needs something like that to thrive too? But still, where would be the balance in that).
I don’t know. I’m not sure the way this book would want me to be. But it made me think about many things in a really short time, and I appreciate that a lot.
On a different level, I loved this book for the way it made the Goblin Market come to life. I felt like I could taste the pies and climb the trees along with Moon and Lundy, and I could see the archivist’s shack. This is even more remarkable considering that I usually struggle with this aspect while listening to audiobooks, but not this time. Cynthia Hopkins’ narration was amazing, and I might even say that Seanan McGuire’s writing works better when narrated, as it relies heavily on telling instead of showing. It slows down the story when you’re reading, but it’s actually a strength when the story is being read to you, and that was really interesting to experience.
My rating: ★★★★★
Silver in the Wood reads like a forest fairytale. It could be seen like a loose m/m retelling of the Green Man myths, so it’s fitting that this is a story about rebirth and reawakening, not only of nature after spring but of people after toxic relationships.
It’s a quiet, slow story, and if at first I thought that the pacing was odd – things happen too quickly, but the book is still slow? – I realized that in a way it was a reflection of how the main character, who is part of the wood, experienced time himself.
This is also one of the best plant magic stories I’ve ever read. Not only it’s about a vaguely creepy wood, it actually talks about which trees there are in detail – elms, oaks, and even a mention of gorse (I love gorse) – and there are scenes in which roots and vines are weapons.
What didn’t work for me as much was the romance, as this is barely longer than 100 pages and the characters interact for only half of them; I thought it was cute, but I didn’t feel it.
At times it reminded me of Witchmark for the sweet romance between a human and a paranormal creature, at times it reminded me of Strange Grace for the isolated town in the wood and the terrible things that lurk in it, and I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who liked those books.
My rating: ★★★★
Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a mind-bending and very gay futuristic sci-fi novella whose main character is a queer latinx woman.
At first, I thought this was going to be a cave horror story about an f/f/f love triangle, which I loved as a concept, but this book turned out to be something entirely different, which was… both the story’s main strength and weakness.
I love being surprised by things that are properly foreshadowed, but when the foreshadowing makes you feel like the main character could say “and it was all just a dream!” at any moment, it’s not really an enjoyable experience. (That’s not what happened, by the way.)
Because Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is dreamlike in an ephemeral way: it’s not whimsical, it just feels like it could fall apart at any moment and become something else – because that’s what dreams do.
Also, this book reminded me why I dislike amnesia as a trope: I don’t know the main character when I start the book, and when she doesn’t know herself either, how am I really going to ever get to know her? (Especially in so little space.)
However, I liked this book’s message and the way it talked about trauma and inner strength. (I wish I could say more, because I thought that aspect was really well-written, but it would be full of spoilers.) Also, reading something that is really short but manages to surprise me twice anyway is always pleasant.
My rating: ★★★¼
What are your favorite Tor.com novellas? Have you read any of these?