Cover Image: Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

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Marion:  Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a 2019 novella by Vylar Kaftan. The story opens with two characters, Bee, our narrator, and Chela, in jeopardy in a very unusual setting, and takes us places we did not expect.

Bee is trapped in a unique and horrifying prison: a cave complex on a planet far from Earth. She has one companion, Chela, and they have banded together to brave the dangers of the caves: the risk of drowning, narrow tunnels that could trap and suffocate a prisoner, deep shafts and large predatory insects. They have never seen another prisoner. The wardens leave boxes of goods with a guiding beacon for them to find. The boxes contain food and other necessary supplies, and sometimes a whimsical item like a postcard. It’s often a race to get to the boxes before the insects find them, and the boxes, their arbitrary placement and the strange items inside seem more like a sadistic game than any dedicated regimen designed to keep the prisoners alive. Between the box deliveries, they explore. Bee is convinced that the random drawings and shapes she finds on the walls are some kind of language, and, furthermore, that many parts of the cave complex are manufactured, not natural, but Chela scoffs at all of this, and Bee’s love for Chela is mainly what has kept her alive, for what Chela says has been nearly a year.

Bee has no memory of when she came to the prison, or why, and only vague scraps of memory of her family. Chela tells her that she is a powerful telepath, who, while fighting for telepath rights, caused the deaths of thousands of people. Bee has believed this, but now, in the darkness, she starts to hear a voice in her head. And the voice is telling her something very different. Chela warns her not to listen, that it’s a trick, but the voice draws Bee back. When Bee impulsively makes a move to escape, the story changes dramatically.

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar KaftanMarion: I found the cave section which opens Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water to be convincing, compelling and scary. This would truly be a terrifying prison. Other settings, later in the story, are described well, but never quite came up to the same level of persuasion for me. Terry, what did you think about the opening?

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar KaftanTerry: The cave setting made me think of video games, somehow; it was very visual, despite the fact — or maybe because of the fact — that the caves are drenched in darkness, and Bee and Chela can only see what falls within the scope of their headlamps. The descriptions of always feeling damp and dodging bugs were enough to make me shudder. As Bee puts it, it’s life as a never-ending panic attack, and Kaftan makes us feel that. I thought this was the best part of the story.

I did find myself feeling annoyed with Bee, who is mostly passive, leaving everything up to Chela, who is a better spelunker but who also emotionally dominates Bee in a way that made me uneasy right from the beginning. If you had a companion in a horrible place like this, the guilt of having killed four thousand people in a moment, and no memory of that happening, wouldn’t you be asking questions? Or if this person constantly told you there was no hope? I wouldn’t be able to love a person who withheld important information from me. Marion, were you troubled early on by this relationship the way I was?

I’m trying to think about how to discuss my reaction without giving spoilers, but basically I found Chela’s evasiveness suspicious. I was especially concerned about her constant efforts to direct Bee away from the drawings and the anomalies of the cave system, and her insistence that escape is impossible. (Later in the novella, the reasons for that become clear).

And it gets more complicated when Jasmine shows up. I’m not sure I completely understood Jasmine’s motivations — she’s a freedom-fighter, obviously — and I was not convinced of the depth of emotion between Bee and Jasmine. Jasmine is clearly trying to help her, but it also seems as if she is using Bee for her own purposes, just as Chela is (though obviously for different purposes). If Bee is the powerful telepath everyone says she is, that would only make sense, but it seems like Bee should be able to intuit that.

Terry, what did you think of Bee’s struggle to come to grips with Chela, particularly in the second half of the book?

Terry:  Frankly, I wondered what took her so long! And I didn’t have the trouble with Jasmine that you did, though that may be a shallow reaction to Jasmine providing information that Chela chose to withhold.

Marion:  Yes, at least Jasmine gave Bee some answers!

I thought Bee’s reaction to the revelations about Chela would be more complex. She seems to switch from love to hate like someone flipping a switch. I think a big part of betrayal is the sense of anger you have, but also that sense of grief over losing someone you loved, because they weren’t the person you thought they were. I didn’t see that grief portrayed here.

Terry:  I agree. Bee went suddenly from a passive little mouse to a full-fledged lioness. One can do this with a character, to be sure, but shouldn’t there also be some indication, no matter how subtle, that the lion exists? Kaftan doesn’t give us that.

Marion:  I do think part of that might be the fact that this is a novella and not a full-length novel, but it certainly could have been foreshadowed earlier in the story.

Later in the story, Bee struggles with physical mobility issues because of things that were done to her in the prison. Those issues became a big part of the story, even with an exoskeleton that she wears. I thought Kaftan addressed those issues well and they were believable in context.

What did you think of the world-building?

Terry:  The world-building was pretty good. I can feel the damp darkness of those caves, the cold of the river. And the medical facility and all Bee’s condition entails were well-drawn. But the last half of the story, once we’re out of the cave, doesn’t work as well as the claustrophobic darkness of the first half. I have a lot more trouble with the relationships than I do with the world.

That said, the story seems like a bit of a throw-back to the fifties and sixties, when we read a lot more about telepathy. I can’t remember the last story I’ve read about this theme. Shades of Theodore Sturgeon!

Terry:  It does have an early New Wave/Ted Sturgeon vibe! I’ve noticed new writers are rediscovering those old elements and revisiting them, so I’m guessing we’ll be seeing more of that ongoing.

Ultimately, I wasn’t much of a fan of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water. Kaftan has a lot of potential, and I’ll want to read whatever she comes up with next, but this story strikes me as an interesting and well-written failure. It’s a 2-1/2 star book for me.

Marion:  It’s a 3-star book for me, mainly because of that cave world. Like you, I’ll be interested to see what Kaftan writes next.

3 stars rounded up from 2-1/2.  Originally published at
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This novella went wholly different places than I expected, though not in a way that could really be foreshadowed. It was okay, but I wasn’t in love with it; I did enjoy that it is clearly, unapologetically queer, with Latinx main characters. It opens on a prison planet, in a mysterious maze of tunnels which Bee and her lover Chela navigate blindly. They must explore the caves, seeking for supplies which are left for them at intervals, and ensure they arrive there before the bugs that infest the place and seem to hunt them — their punishment for the crime of being telepathic terrorists. However, despite the block on her telepathic powers, Bee feels someone trying to contact her… a woman she realises is in fact her wife.

Things take quite the turn from there, in a way that wasn’t really foreshadowed — too much detail would have made it far too obvious. It’s hard to discuss the rest of the novel without spoilers because of that: suffice it to say that this is a character-focused book, and Bee has to face certain facts and her own trauma in order to win through. The sci-fi plot turns out to be a vehicle for a story about trauma and healing.

In the end, it didn’t bowl me over, but I don’t regret giving it a try. I’d probably try something else by Vylar Kaftan to see whether it was just this story or if it’s her whole style.
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I didn't finish this book because I just had a hard time getting into it. I'm sure there is an audience for it, I'm just not it.
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Thank you Netgalley forgiving me this book in exchange of an honest review.

I hate to admit it but I actually DNF the book at 60%.

I was very intrigued in the beginning and really enjoyed the two main characters but sadle the world wasn't as developped as I would have liked. I do think that if it were longer I would have liked it better because then things could be explained properly. There were also some deep themes involved but they were deeply explored whoch is a pitty.
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Gorgeous, lyrical novella with a much deeper and more psychological bent than I was expecting from the blurb! It's a character study of a very damaged woman and the science fiction aspects support and twist this rather than being the main plot exactly - it's hard to describe, really, as so much happens in so few pages, but also, so little happens, as it's about character more than action. I adored it, and though I was confused in places, I think it is an extremely clever piece of fiction. It's creepy as hell in places and does some fascinating things with world-building.

I loved that it centred women who love women, but I strongly disagree with the reviewer who claims this is 'cheesy romance fiction' - if you've actually ever read any, it couldn't be further from that. There is a love story, but it's a pre-existing relationship and it takes a massive sideline to the main character's mental and physical journey - there are no romance tropes here. It's fascinating, introspective speculative fiction that happens to centre a sapphic woman. It's beautiful and powerful.
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Bee is a powerful telepath imprisoned on a prison planet for crimes she can’t remember with only one dear companion to help keep her sane. Bee is also a powerful telepath lost for a decade to her friends and family, trapped in her own mind. Finally pulling free of her prisons, she has to come to terms with her guilt, power, and love all in a beautifully written introspective novella.
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Having read a number of stories very similar to this one, I predicted the end long before I had even read the first 50 pages. It is perhaps worth noting this is a short story at only just over 100 pages. 
Anytime there is only one person feeding a BS sounding story to a character with a memory loss problem I get skeptical. You just know something is definitely not right here. The story has overtones of Momento in which the “helper” is not telling the whole truth (or any truth). 

Overall this is really well written. For a book only 100 pages long I appreciate that there is no info dumping. Vylar Kaftan has used his words wisely and conservatively. A good little study in twisting plot points and handling amnesia; but nothing special here in my opinion. Many well-read readers of mystery stories are likely to guess the outcome far in advance. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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Published by on May 21, 2019

There seems to be a disturbing trend of science fiction publishers omitting the word “romance” when they market science fiction romances. Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water has the trappings of a “telepath revolution” story, but it’s the kind of novel that will appeal to fans of romance fiction more than fans of science fiction. The revolution, and even the telepathy, is undeveloped and very much in the background.

Chela and Bee are telepaths and (according to Chela) terrorists from Earth, although Bee doesn’t recall the mass destruction they caused and barely remembers Earth. The neck chip that blocks her powers seems to have damaged Bee’s memory, or so Chela theorizes. There was a war, Chela says. They used their powers and people died, Chela says. Now the two women climb through tunnels, battling bugs the size of flying rabbits, in search of the printed food their captors have left for them. Sometimes they stop to have sex. In fact, they have regular sex. Good for them. Sex is a pleasant way to pass time when you aren’t dodging insect rabbits.

It is clear enough, early on, that Chela is hiding something from Bee. Perhaps the truth will set Bee free. When Bee regains some of her memory, however, she does not know whether to believe that Chela is warning her of a threat or that Chela is the threat. Neither does the reader.

The story’s second half devolves into an anguished cry about how awful it is to be an oppressed telepath in love. Women remember the taste of each other’s bodies and the feel of swelling nipples. That shouldn’t be dull but my eyes glazed over at the unrequited yearning and the assurances that characters give each other that they are just so amazing and nothing is their fault. Perhaps I cannot identify with their “desperate need to be cherished.” I thought the flying insect rabbits were more interesting.

This is sort of a “power of love; love conquers all” story. The writing is fluid (pretentious title notwithstanding) but most of it is devoted to how much Bee loves her wife unless she’s thinking about how much she loves Chela, except for the moments when she considers how much she hates one or the other of them. The plot (which might make sense but maybe it doesn’t; I stopped trying to understand it after I lost interest) is secondary to the declarations of love and accusations of love betrayed.

The virtue of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is that, as a novella, it is over quickly. I have no problem with romance but I am not drawn to cheesy romance fiction, and I am irked by romance fiction that is marketed as science fiction by science fiction publishers. I read this novella because it was blurbed by Ann Leckie and Nancy Kress, two sf writers I admire. They apparently found something worthwhile that I missed.

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The story started out very interestingly, in an underground prison on a distant planet, memory loss and the hope of escape and a tantalizing world of space ships and telepathy. The two female characters are strong and tough and gay, apparently prisoners from some unexplained war. However, the story seems to devolve very quickly from there. The memory-loss storyline peters out halfway through as she regains all of her memory and the author completely destroys all of the mystery and sci-fi interest by making it all a figment of the main character's imagination. The story turns into a sad sort of PTSD love story about being discriminated against. And then it just ends.
I found it very unsatisfying, but at least it was short.
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Vylar Kaftan – Her Silhouette, Drawn in WaterAre you familiar with the concept of a Book Hangover? When you're not ready to start another book because the setting, characters, and story of the previous one are still so vivid in your head? Well, I had a similar effect when I picked up Vylar Kaftan's Novella Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water. You see, beforehand I had read Adrian Tchaikovsky's Walking to Aldebaran, which follows an Astronaut lost in an Alien Artefact, walking through endless tunnels.
And this story started with “These caves have never been friendly...”. Direct cross-contamination in my head, to the point where I had to put this down, read something else, and then go back to it to be able to do it justice!

But here you are – another story set in a claustrophobic cave environment, or at least starting there. In these caves we meet our protagonist Bee (full name Bianca del Rios), and her companion Chela. The setting is Colel-Cab, a prison planet. Why are they there, locked up all alone in a dangerous environment, with regular food/supply drops they have to scamper for before other denizens of the caves get them, is not entirely clear. I mean, not just in the story, but to the protagonists, either.

Yes, Bee is a Telepath (she has a chip in her neck suppressing that ability), but she has no memories of what misdeeds she got up to. Chela tells stories of a destroyed space ship, and thousands of victims, but somehow things don't add up. And it's not entirely clear why Chela is there, either – is she a (misguided) lover who went to prison with her love, is she a co-conspirator in these supposed crimes, or is she part of the jail? Of the punishment?
But Bee's telepathy suppressor is not fully effective, and there's another telepath nearby – and she learns more of what and where she is, and starts to work towards escape, something Chela is strongly opposed to.

I won't spill more of the story, save for the fact that the 2nd half doesn't play in the caves, and worked (not for that fact itself!) significantly better as a story for me. Maybe think of it as an overly long set-up before things kick off and get interesting? Either way we work through several layers of misdirection on part of the author (cleverly done, I hasten to add!) before all the pieces fit together and make sense. Even if the story leaves much to be told at the end...

The society this plays in is believable – technology-wise derived from ours into the near-future, and with a very realistic take on society's reaction to telepaths in their midst. No, it's not pretty, but all the more believable. The love story, playing out between Latina protagonists is at the core of the story, and makes the final twist even more surprising. Or maybe that was just me falling hook, line, and sinker for the author's plotting and misdirection, of course.
But if strong non-white lesbian female characters taking the lead makes a story more interesting or attractive to you then you're in for a treat here.

Vylar Kaftan is an American short-fiction writer (at least so far) with a good number of published stories under her belt, including an entry in Farah Mendlesohn's amazing collection Glorifying Terrorism. She's the winner of both Nebula and Sidewise Awards.


More Vylar Kaftan

Title: Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water
Author: Vylar Kaftan
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher: Tor Books
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: May 2019
Review Date: 190613
ISBN: 9781250221148 
Pages: 67
Format: ePub
Topic: Telephathy
Topic: Prison Break

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
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I tried really hard to get into this because I loved the premise, but I strongly dislike the narrative voice and the characters. The whole setup is also kind of confusing, too; amnesia plotlines are tough for me anyways, and I don't think this one is written very well. Since it's so short, I kept telling myself I'd force myself to finish it, but it's been 2-3 weeks since I've read a single page so I might as well drop it.

Thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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I feel this was a case where the synopsis was a bit misleading. I was expecting a sci-fi story, and it ended up being more of a lesbian romance with sci-fi elements. Not my cup of tea, but others may enjoy.

I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.
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I don’t have strong feelings about Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water, which is why I decided this should be a shorter review than normal.

All Bee can remember is the darkness of the prison planet. She doesn’t remember anything of her life before. Luckily she’s not alone — she’s got Chela. Chela tells her that they were both psychics and that they used their powers to kill a bunch of people during a war. That they deserve to be here. Bee believes her, but then she starts hearing something… another psychic? And everything Bee thought she knew is turned upside down.

The concept of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water was really intriguing. Psychics trapped on a prison planet made up solely of caves is a really cool idea! Also, it’s got the sort of messy lesbian relationships that would appeal to fans of The Luminous Dead. Unfortunately, the execution never worked quite right for me. I think this novella would have benefited from stronger world building. The pacing felt off — like it slowed down a ton around the 60% mark. And Bee also felt way too passive for most of the story. All in all, it didn’t work quite right for me.

I received an ARC with the expectation of a free and honest review.
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This is a very cleverly written, and credible depiction of what it might be like to be a telepath in a world of hostile normals.

It begins on a prison planet , where Bee follows fellow prisoner Chela through a maze of caverns, striving simply to survive and perhaps recover some of her memories. Her escape is enlightening.
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3 stars, Metaphorosis Reviews

A woman and one companion are trapped in an endless labyrinth that seems to have no exit. Or are they? When the woman escapes, leaving her companion behind, has she found freedom?

I've been hearing the name Vylar Kaftan for years, it seems like, but never read of any of her work. So when I saw this novella available, I thought I'd pick it up. It's fine, if not particularly inspired.
It's generally well written, though the prose is choppy in places. However, there's not that much to the story that's new. The basic concept - a psychic prison - is very familiar, and Kaftan doesn't do much with it that's innovative. The middle of the piece is long, slow, and repetitive, and likely this would have been better off as a short story. Instead, however, it reads like an excerpt or introduction to a longer piece.

The strongest aspect of the piece is its characters, but ever there, the narrator feels very self-involved, without too much interest in others - while constantly bemoaning her effect on others. The end is pretty muddled.

I can't say I'm sorry I read this; I'm glad to at last have a sense of Kaftan's skills. But there's nothing about this story that would make me search out another of Kaftan's books.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water 
by Vylar Kaftan 
Sci Fi & Fantasy
Abeja and Chela have been crawling around in caves, forever on the run. They are telepaths who have been imprisoned because they killed thousands aboard a starship. They've been given a chip that will knock them out if they ever try to use their talents. Large robots patrol the outside and Chela and Abeja only have each other.

Except Abeja senses a presence, a voice calling her telepathically. Chela warns it is a telepath in league with the government. But the voice is familiar and Abeja wants to connect.

This parallels Philip K. Dick territory, but veers into something else. It's quite intriguing although it bogs a little in the middle. Definitely worth your time. It wouldn't surprise me to see it on award ballots.
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I haven’t read much speculative fiction, but when publishes a novella, my curiosity is instantly piqued, no matter the genre. The blurb on this one sounded promising and -- let’s be honest -- the gorgeous cover and unique title drew me in as well. So I thought I’d give it a try!

And whaddya know -- it’s wonderfully weird! It’s also intense, introspective, dream-like and diverse (sapphic latinx characters). I loved the pacing of the story (FAST) and the twists (NUMEROUS). It’s trippy in a very good way and a lot deeper than I expected.

I would love to talk more about the themes, but that discussion could become spoilery quite quickly, and I do think this is one of those books you’re better off diving into without knowing too much beforehand.

As with pretty much any novella, you’re not going to get every detail of the world-building, but if you enjoy glimpses into a larger world that allow you to imagine what else might be going on behind the scenes, you’ll enjoy the way this story is written. I would recommend Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water if you’re looking for a quick mind-bender (it took me under an hour to read!) that’s full of twists and leaves you thinking.

Advanced copy provided by publishing through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

(Review posted to Goodreads & Amazon. Short graphic also saved to Instagram sci-fi recommendations highlight.)
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The nitty-gritty: A short, well written tale with a dream-like quality that gives readers plenty to think about.

This was such an odd little story, but I enjoyed it a lot. Vylar Kaftan has written a twisty, hallucinogenic tale about mental health and inner strength that didn’t go where I was expecting it to go—at all. I’m still not sure I understood everything that happens in this short novella, but I loved Kaftan’s atmospheric writing style and her exploration of how the minds of telepaths work. The main characters are queer Latinx women so if you’re looking for diverse rep in your reading, then look no further.

The story opens as two women are trapped in an underground cave system. The narrator, a powerful telepath named Bee, describes climbing through the dangerous corridors of the cave with her only companion, a fellow telepath named Chela. Together they help each other survive as they scramble to find food stores left behind by their captors and try to avoid the swarms of dangerous insects that seem to be everywhere in the caves. We soon learn that Bee and Chela have been imprisoned on the planet Colel-Cab after causing the deaths of thousands of people. Chela insists that there is no way to escape the caves and that they should just make the best of things. At least they have each other, right? But Bee is determined to find a way out of the caves and off the planet. Unfortunately, she’s also lost her memories and can’t remember anything about the incident that brought her here, or any details about her past. She must rely on Chela to fill in the blanks, but Chela seems oddly reluctant to explain too much.

One day Bee senses another presence close by, and suddenly a memory blooms in her mind—she can hear the voice of her wife, Jasmine. Convinced that Jasmine is trying to help her break out of prison, Bee decides she’ll do whatever it takes to find her freedom, even if it means leaving Chela behind.

There’s a powerful mystery to all these events, and you’ll have to read to the end before you understand what’s going on, but that was half the fun, not understanding but trying to piece things together as the story progresses. We’re given some scant background details about this world, where telepaths live in danger of being captured and “T-locked”—having their minds locked so that they can’t endanger anyone. It’s sort of terrifying if you think about it, having a gift like telepathy but everyone is afraid of you and wants to stop you from using that ability.

It’s also hard to know who to trust in this story. Bee seems like she’s an innocent, and both Chela and Jasmine might be lying to her. I even suspected at one point that Bee might be the unreliable narrator, but Kaftan’s story was hard to predict and I found that my theories were completely wrong at the end.

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is short but powerful. The ending surprised and delighted me, and I love the way everything seemed to come together and finally make sense. I’d love to read something longer from this author, because I think her ideas are unique and a novel length story would give her even more room to develop those ideas.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
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The ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan is a futuristic sci-fi novella whose main character is a queer latinx woman. 
I enjoyed very much the rep here: three of our main characters are queer women. Plus, this book deals a lot with important themes such as PTSD, anxiety and loneliness. 
One of the strenghts of this novella is definetely the writing style. I could feel on my own skin the sense of claustrophobia and darkness perceveid by Bee. It was something pretty strong.
Also, I find the plot twist really interesting and quite unexpected.
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Bianca, or Bee, is in a solitary, but open world, prison on an uninhabited planet, Colel-Cab. She cannot remember the crime she committed that led to her arrest and imprisonment, or anything at all for that matter. All Bee knows is that she's a powerful telepath and her crimes and her abilities make her very dangerous to others. Bee and her girlfriend, Chela, have managed to survive the planet's harsh environment together. For several months, the two of them explore the caves on Colel-Cab and mapping out the layout. Bee is hoping for a way out of the prison and off the planet, but Chela is extremely reluctant to leave, saying over and over again that it's not safe. 

One day, Bee is able to make contact with someone beyond Colel-Cab. To Bee's delight and Chela's horror, there's a chance for escape. But the question is, who needs rescuing and why? 

Vylar Kaftan's novella, "Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water," is a beautiful story about love and illusion. The love triangle is an interesting subplot, but the author does an amazing job giving life to her ideas of the mind, an individual's thoughts and beliefs, and PTSD (and how to cope with it). The plot and the theme of this story is fear and how an individual, and those within both their social circle and within society, survives and overcomes it. 

"Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water" will draw readers into the imagery surrounding this story. The themes of love, fear, and trauma are told in this brilliant narrative. The characters are well-developed and poignant. Emotional and beautiful from beginning to end. Another stunning novella published by Tor Books!
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