Irresistible Forces, an anthology

>> Thursday, July 01, 2004

I've been eagerly anticipating reading the anthology Irresistible Forces since I first read the review. I really like sci-fi romance, and this one seemed to be something different from the cheesy barbarian / virgin healer variety.

The anthology starts on a high note with Lois McMaster Bujold's story, Winterfair Gifts. The story takes place during the preparations for Miles Vorksigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson's wedding. I've read only one Bujold so far, Shards of Honor, which the first book about Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan, parents of Miles, and I read this one about a year ago.This means that much of the background here was lost on me. I have a vague knowledge what's what in this universe, and absolutely none about Miles and his friends. So, all the stuff about all the guests coming and going, which I suppose was designed to make long-time followers of the series catch up with old friends, was lost on me. Some names were vaguely familiar, like Bothari, but I don't really know who they were.

However, it was possible to ignore these distractions and the story narrated here was really engaging. The romance between the shy, provincial palace guard and the gigantic, bioengineered bodyguard with the intimidating fanged smile (this last was the female, btw), was lovely, and the story was a good blend of plot and character development. I'd give it a B+. I really have to get the rest of the books in the series...

The second story was The Alchemical Marriage, by long time favourite author Mary Jo Putney. I still adore her historicals, especially her Fallen Angels series, but I didn't think she did very well in her contemps. The new direction she seems to be taking, with paranormal historicals, sounds like a step in the right direction.

In "The Alchemical Marriage," the hero, Sir Adam Macrae, is a stubborn Scottish weather magician who is imprisoned in the Tower of London because of his intemperate remarks after Queen Elizabeth executed Mary, Queen of Scots. Expecting death, he is shocked when he receives two visitors to his cell. One is John Dee, the Queen's own sorcerer (a real historical figure), and the other is Isabel de Cortes—descendant of Spanish Marranos, and a gifted mage who is not of the Guardian families.

Dee makes a startling offer: Adam can win his life and freedom if he uses his weather mastery to fend off the Spanish Armada. But can a loyal Scot use his power to help England? Isabel de Cortes will be his assistant, and she is a woman like no other. Perhaps they belong together—if they can survive the dangerous magical work required to save Britain.
This was a fun story.The idea that the storm that defeated the Great Spanish Armada was actually created by a British weather mage tickled my fancy. The romance itself...hmmm. Not that good. Not enough development, basically, and I really found the "magic sex" cheesy. Maybe a B-?

The next story was Stained Glass Heart, by Catherine Asaro. Here's the blurb from the review at Escape to Romance:

Prince Havryl Torcellei, Vyrl, has fallen in love with a farmer's daughter, Lilly. He plans a life with Lilly, only to find that his parents have betrothed him to the older, offworlder Devon Majda. They seek an alliance between the house of Majda and Vyrl's own family, the Ruby Dynasty.
I loved the worldbuilding. I'm guessing this was part of her Skolian Empire series, which I haven't read yet, but I never felt lost here. And Asaro paints such a beautiful picture of this world! However, the romance was a failure, to me.

First of all, these two, Vyrl and Lily were much too young! I mean, they were what, 14 when they got married? In the epilogue Vyrl is 19 and they have a 4-year-old. The worst part is that they not only are 14 or 15, they act their age, so I had a hard time buying into them being "in love" enough to get married.

Also, got the impression that if Vyrl had only sat down with his parents and had a serious talk with them, they would have listened and not forced him to marry Devon Majda. The way their relationship to their son was depicted would indicate that they wouldn't have forced him to do something like marry against his will. The whole elopment was, to me, mostly about a young boy's love of a dramatic gesture, more than about any real love he felt for Lily. Also, what are they, rabbits? Everyone seems to have 10 kids here! *shudder*

I found General Majda much more interesting, and I'd have prefered a story about her and her clerk. This was a C+ for me.

The fourth story was definitely my least favourite. Skin Deep was written by a new-to-me author, Deb Stover.

Shapeshifting, angelic mission, divine intervention, or insanity? All Nick Riley knows for sure is that he's no Dolly Levi, and being sent back to Earth to find the right man for his own widow is cruel and unusual punishment of the most bizarre kind imaginable....
I actually wasn't too enamoured of the premise, because it reminded me to much of certain movies, like What Women Want, comedies with humour which doesn't work for me. And since the story felt very like this type of movie, it didn't work, either. I wasn't charmed by Nick and his reactions at being in a woman's body simply didn't ring true. As for Margo and Jared, well, I never knew anything about Jared and I took an instant dislike to Margo on seeing her reactions in the first scene, at the strip club. The plot of the story was boring, the humour was unfunny and the characters unlikeable. Result? A D- story.

The very next story, The Trouble With Heroes, by Jo Beverley, was my favourite. The blurb I'm going to post is pretty long, but it's worth it.

The people of Earth have learned to travel to the stars, though they have found no other highly developed neighbors. Earth-like planets are adapted for colonization with, in theory, due respect for any life forms already there.

When the planet now known as Gaia was discovered, it was the prize; an idyll almost perfect for humans and their chosen animals yet without any large creatures. There was one problem. A force, a something, that appeared to consume animals down to ash, but it was rare and hard to understand, and everything else was so perfect. So, despite the Hostile Amorphous Native Entities, Gaia was settled and has prospered, helped by the fact that over the generations, some Gaians developed an ability to sense and destroy HANES -- or as they are more commonly called, Hellbanes. This ability has a useful side effect. These people can fix almost anything.

Gaia was settled on the Earth Community Plan, which means that colonists set up communities according to their Earth nations and customs, and this story takes place in the English community, Anglia. Jenny Hart is an ordinary citizen leading an ordinary life until the Hellbanes begin to rise, fear drifts on the air, and everyone, but especially her childhood friend, Dan Fixer, begins to change.
I never would have thought of Jo Beverley as a sci-fi romance writer, but she's VERY good at this. She creates a fascinating world here, and gives us a melancholy story, one set during a war and exploring its effects on regular people and especially on the heroes. It does suffer a bit from its length, because this is a story where such huge things are happening that it might be better suited to a novel, especially because the romance simply doesn't have enough space to develop.

Still, this was so fascinating that I'd give the story an A-. I hope Beverley has plans to write a full-length sci-fi romance novel at some point in the future.

The last story, Shadows in the Wood, by Jennifer Roberson I also liked very much, which was a surprise, because a priori I wasn't too interested in reading about Robin Hood and Marian going on a mission with Merlin. I've never been too intrigued neither by the Robin Hood nor by the Arthurian legend, but this melding of the two definitely captured my attention the minute I started it. It's very short, but it gives me a nice look at what this author has done with the Robin Hood legend. She has a couple of novels about it, according to the short bio at the back, and having read this, I'm tempted to look for them, especially because Marian seems to be a really kick-ass heroine in Roberson's telling. This story was a B.

So, there was a bit of everything here. Some of the stories have a sci-fi feel, some are just paranormal historicals, some are more fantasy. All in all, it's an interesting collection, and I'd give it a B.


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