Irresistible Forces is a puzzling, uneven anthology whose novellas range from science fiction to paranormal to divine intervention. They are linked together only because each offer, according to editor Catherine Asaro, “a cornucopia of romantic adventures that take the best of the [speculative and romance fiction] genres and meld them into a marriage of heart and mind.” Some are spin-offs of these authors’ popular series while others are stand-alone stories. Because of a lack of consistent high quality, I’d recommend that you save your $14 and spend it on some of these authors’ solo efforts.
The collection starts off with “Winterfair Gifts” by Lois McMaster Bujold, which features her popular character Miles Vorkosigan, now engaged to be married. The story’s main focus, however, is on Miles’ steadfast but insecure guard, Roic. When wedding guests arrive at Vorkosigan House, Armsman Roic finds himself fascinated by Miles’ friend Taura, a gigantic bioengineered woman with an unfortunate set of fangs that strike fear into the heart of small children. As Roic spends time with Taura, accompanying her to a modiste for a Cinderella-like makeover and helping her foil a plot against Miles, those fangs become less terrifying and Taura becomes more appealing. But how can a low-level guard who has never left his home planet capture the affection of an adventurous, unique (but lonely) woman like Taura ?
This story was my first exposure to the highly acclaimed Bujold, and although I had to read carefully to gain a full understanding of her world, I was enchanted by its creative, multi-dimensional characters and by Bujold’s dry humor. I finished the story with plans to look up the other books about Miles, so I’d say “Winterfair Gifts” was a success.
Next up is Mary Jo Putney’s “The Alchemical Marriage,” an underdeveloped story about Scottish sorcerer Adam Macrae, member of the magical Guardian sect, who is offered a pardon from a British prison if he will use his weather mage talents to sink the Spanish Armada. Helping him accomplish his task is Isabel de Cortes, who, despite her Spanish heritage, has good reason to hate that country. The story is too brief to give us much insight into the characters, and the climactic “we must have sex to invoke the magic’s full power” made me guffaw (hopefully men aren’t using that as a pick-up line these days). Putney promises more Guardians in future novels, but I hope their stories are more convincing than this one.
Readers of Catherine Asaro’s Skolian Empire Saga will be familiar with some of the characters in her story “Stained Glass Heart.” Young Vyrl Valdoria wants only to stay on his home planet of Lyshriol, study agriculture and explore the new romantic feelings he has for his childhood playmate Lily. But because his mother is a powerful member of the Ruby Dynasty, he is forced into a strategic betrothal to Devon Majda, who at age 38 is “practically ancient.” When Vyrl takes dramatic steps to avoid the marriage, he risks causing a diplomatic crisis. Is there a solution that will encompass both love and politics? “Stained Glass Heart” is enjoyable primarily because of Asaro’s skills at world building, particularly Lyshriol’s unusual native plants and animals. But Vyrl is a callow 15-year old adolescent, and his relationship with Lily is without depth or complexity. Vyrl’s interesting secret pastime provides a small spark, but overall this is not Catherine Asaro at her best.
You can easily skip over Deb Stover’s “Skin Deep,” which reads like a bad category romance. Nick Riley has been dead for two years but gets a chance to finally ascend to Heaven if he can help his former wife Margo get back together with the man she would have married if Nick hadn’t interfered. In a plot straight out of a Blake Edwards movie, Nick comes back to Earth in the body of a gorgeous, stacked redhead named Raquel, and immediately has to bail Margo out of trouble when she and her sister are caught in the middle of a raid on a male stripper club. Of course, Margo is a serious journalist who is only at the club because she wants to write an expose on why men become strippers (hello, Pulitzer Prize!), and she’s absolutely shocked when the handsome man dancing in front of her turns out to be her ex-boyfriend Jared. The story gets sillier and sillier from there; take my word, and move right ahead to the best story in the collection.
That highlight is Jo Beverley’s “The Trouble With Heroes,” a haunting story that makes me wonder why this talented author hasn’t tried this genre before. Residents of the planet Gaia have always felt fortunate to have found a perfect, safe home after Earth became inhospitable, but to their horror they learn that their planet’s dangers have only been lying dormant. Blighters that reduce human beings to piles of ash are proliferating and advancing, and the only force standing between them and total annihilation are a small group of individuals with special healing powers known as Fixers. Jenny Hart’s friend Dan Rutherford leaves their hometown to join the other Fixers in a desperate attempt to save their planet, but nothing is as simple as victory or defeat. The story insightfully portrays how humans turn against anything they don’t understand, even their own heroes. It’s up to Jenny to take action so that her fellow Gaians will know the extent of Dan’s bravery. “The Trouble With Heroes” is a brilliant novella that, for the second time in this collection, made me want to track down the author’s backlist. Special kudos to Beverley for inserting a quick but hilarious joke that illustrates how Gaians learn about Earth history (hint: it’s something completely different…).
After that rousing crescendo, the book ends on a quiet but satisfying note with “Shadows in the Wood” by Jennifer Roberson. Starring characters from the author’s popular Lady of the Forest and Lady of Sherwood novels, this brief installment has Robin Hood and Maid Marian colliding head-on with a character from the Arthurian Legends. This intriguing “what if” tale is highlighted by the strong relationship between hero and heroine.
Irresistible Forces isn’t irresistible by any means, but it has its charms. Readers of the Vorkosigan series will probably be interested in the Lois McMasters Bujold story and fans of the Skolian saga will want to check out Catherine Asaro’s entry. But the jewel in this collection is definitely Jo Beverley’s thought-provoking novella.