Cover Image: Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

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Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan (Macmillan, 2019) is a queer psychic thriller that can be a quick read, but you’ll find yourself wanting to slow down to savor the gorgeous language and beautiful characterization.

The main character, Bee, is in an unusual prison without guards, where every day is an exercise in survival. She has few memories of what she did to get there, but Chela, who shares this prison, has told her that they are both psychics who caused a massive disaster. When Bee begins reaching out with her allegedly stunted psychic abilities, she discovers layer upon layer of lies and deceit as she struggles to break free from her imprisonment and its after effects.

The world had a bit of a dystopian feel, and both the world and the memory loss reminded me in places of Altered Carbon. If you enjoy thrillers that deal with issues of oppression and disability, along with a stunning cast of queer characters, you’ll love Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water. It’s available on May 21, 2019, but you can pre-order now.

The publisher provided us with a free copy of this novel in exchange for review consideration.
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[my review will go live on my blog at the link provided on 21 May — it has already been posted to goodreads and LibraryThing]

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan is a short novella about a woman imprisoned in a cave system on an alien planet. Or so it starts. She does not fully remember who she is or what her crime was, but at least she is not alone. Her fellow prisoner seems to know more than she does but is reluctant to divulge the information.

All Bee has ever known is darkness.

She doesn’t remember the crime she committed that landed her in the cold, twisting caverns of the prison planet Colel-Cab with only fellow prisoner Chela for company. Chela says that they’re telepaths and mass-murderers; that they belong here, too dangerous to ever be free. Bee has no reason to doubt her—until she hears the voice of another telepath, one who has answers, and can open her eyes to an entirely different truth.

This novella grabbed me straight away. Even though it is not very clear at first what's happening, I was drawn in my my desire to find out more about the world. I wasn't expecting the story to be about telepaths (probably because I don't pay overly much attention to blurbs), but it played out more interestingly than I would have expected. On the one hand, the plight of telepaths in this future world is central to the story since it's closely bound with the reasons for Bee's imprisonment. On the other hand, the actual conflict is backgrounded with the main focus being on Bee's personal struggle. In a society at war, we are presented with a very stark example of the personal being political.

I don't think I can say much more without spoiling the story, but I found it consistently very readable. The setting and story was a bit unusual, and at the same time the personal journey was very unexceptional in the context of fiction (aside from the parts that were). I recommend Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water to fans of soft science fiction/science fantasy — there's no avoiding the telepathy aspect of the story — and to any readers interested in personal stories with political backdrops.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2019, Tor.com
Series: Don't think so
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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I received a gratis advance copy of this novella through Netgalley

Intense. Mind-bending. Kaftan's novella is an incredibly fast, breath-taking read that never lets up the pace even as the nature of the tale changes. It begins feeling like a claustrophobic thriller: two Latinx women, prisoners within a cave system on an alien world, scrambling to survive on infrequent care packs as they battle off horrendous bugs. Their intense love for each other helps them to get by. The women were sentenced here because they are telepaths who committed a mass murder. Or did they?

At heart, this is a psychological thriller that explores how the mind is the most effective prison at all. It delves into themes of PTSD and trauma through a distinctly sci-fi lens, to great effect. My only complaint, I think, is that the end felt a bit abrupt, and I was left wanting a bit more explanation and resolution. But wow, does that ending still have power.
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This lovely novella reminds me of water-colors, painted with a deft touch, often evoked rather than explicitly depicted as layers of illusion are dispelled. The story opens with Bee, incarcerated in a series of caverns with only one companion, her lover, Chela. Although her crime was blowing up a space ship, she has no memory of it. Food and other supplies are delivered, but the two of them never encounter another human being. Gradually, though, Bee realizes she has telepathic powers that are nullified by a chip in her brain, supposedly related to her crime. The more she tries to reach out with her mind, the more agonizing the consequences, and the more frantic Chela becomes to maintain their status quo, to not challenge their imprisonment, and to keep Bee emotionally entangled with her.

Slowly Bee peels away the layers of illusion, and I won’t reveal what comes to light, as “the pleasure is in the journey.” Suffice it to say that I kept turning the pages, pausing to savor the nuanced, exquisitely crafted prose. Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water showcases Kaftan as an author of immense skill and sensitivity. The end suggest that Bee’s story will continue, and I for one will be looking forward to it! 

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything in particular about it. Although chocolates and fine imported tea are always welcome.
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Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is one of the most beautiful novellas I’ve read. We see a woman with telepathic abilities, locked in a world from which she desperately wants to break free. Her thoughts are often raw and jumbled, flying between excitement and heartbreak, fear and determination. It’s one of the most human narratives you’ll find. Kaftan has captured the savagery of trauma on the mind and the beauty of a love story paused by terrifying circumstances. Prepare to feel all of the emotions as you travel on this journey to self-healing and acceptance.

Spoilers below, you’ve been warned!

I was most impressed by how well Kaftan captures the raw emotions stemming from anxiety, depression, and trauma. We see the protagonist truly struggle to recover from the wrongs done to her. It’s not an easy journey and it’s only when she reaches within and accepts herself for who she is that the healing begins. Her love story is essential to the plot, showing us a wife who never gave up on finding the love of her life, even after a decade of searching. They’re essentially strangers by the time she’s rescued but the memories live on and that love is something worth rediscovering. It’s hard to describe the emotional journey of experiencing this book from a reader perspective. To summarize, it’s intense and magical. 

Telepathy is also normalized, changing it from an all encompassing, universe altering power to something ordinary. There’s no crushing of cars or destruction of worlds, just a form of human connection that’s misunderstood. Her ability creates the most memorable interactions with her wife, allowing her to share in her emotions, to see her memories when her own have been tarnished. It made me emotional, imagining how an ability like that could enhance the life of someone unable to remember pivotal moments from their past. It’s a form of connection deeper than anything we’re able to feel in real life.

In the end, Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a special kind of book, a character piece that lets you into the very depths of the protagonist’s soul. To experience her emotions, her love, and her self-discovery is a true gift that’s hard to find. 

Review to be published on 5/22: https://reviewsandrobots.com/2019/05/22/her-silhouette-drawn-in-water-book-review
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Ahoy there me mateys! I received this sci-fi eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here be me honest musings . . 

.her silhouette, drawn in water (Vylar Kaftan)
Title: her silhouette, drawn in water
Author: Vylar Kaftan
Publisher: Tor.com
Publication Date: Tomorrow! (paperback/ebook)
ISBN: 978-1250221131
Source: NetGalley

This novella is about two telepaths trying to survive in a prison planet.  One, the protagonist Bee, is determined to escape even though her memory is faulty and she can't even remember why she was sentenced.  The other, Chela, is only focused on day-to-day survival and refuses to discuss much of the past.  The prison that they are in happens to be a cave system inhabited by bug swarms.  The two women rely on each other and their love to keep sane.  Bee suspects a secret behind the prison and is surprised to one day hear the voice of a new telepath.

This was an uneven read for me.  I absolutely loved the entire beginning in the prison and the introduction of the third telepath.  But the book started to break down once Bee learns the truth.  I can't get into the rest of the plot because of major spoilers.  Let's just say that the book took several interesting and unexpected turns.  Which was awesome.  Unfortunately, the world-building wasn't strong enough to support them.

Though I loved Bee, the other characters really felt two-dimensional.  The politics of the world were barely hashed out and slightly nonsensical.  Bee's journey of self-discovery was interesting but the format of the plot made it hard to follow at times.  There were deep themes involved but none seemed to be explored in any meaningful way.  The theme that had the most success was the investigation into love due to the variety of types that were covered and some of the unusual circumstances Bee found herself in.

While I am ultimately glad to have read this one due to the interesting concepts and writing style, I think that overall this story would have been better served in a longer format.

So lastly . . .Thank ye Tor.com!

Goodreads has this to say about the novella:

All Bee has ever known is darkness.She doesn’t remember the crime she committed that landed her in the cold, twisting caverns of the prison planet Colel-Cab with only fellow prisoner Chela for company. Chela says that they’re telepaths and mass-murderers; that they belong here, too dangerous to ever be free. Bee has no reason to doubt her—until she hears the voice of another telepath, one who has answers, and can open her eyes to an entirely different truth.

To visit the author's website go to:
Vylar Kaftan - Author

To buy the book go to:her silhouette, drawn in water - Book

To add to Goodreads go to:
Yer Ports for Plunder List
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Thanks to Tor.com and NetGalley for providing a copy of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan for review! Tor.com is cranking out the hits this year, and this one really caught my attention with the cover reveal. I was immediately attracted to the vibe of the artwork, and after reading the synopsis I had to add it to my reading list. It is a short read, but well worth your time!

Fans of speculative fiction will find a lot to love in Sillhouette. The expectations for the narrative change dramatically from one page to the next. So much so that it's difficult to talk about it without spoilers, even for the first few pages. It was amazing to me that this novella was able to capture such complex context shifts so seamlessly. Riddling out the truth in the story required some real thought on my part, which I enjoyed! For once I didn't see all the twists and turns coming. 

This is a great book to add to any LGBTQ reading list. I enjoyed the complexity of the primary relationship explored in Silhouette. Some additional points of representation include mental disorder in the form of PTSD, amnesia, and generalized trauma. There is also some attention to physical disability, and the othering of a subset of society. Throughout the first section of the book there are a lot of Spanish phrases, and though I don't speak Spanish I never felt confused by these moment. I also really enjoyed seeing the Spanish language in a Sci-Fi setting. 

I do hope that Kaftan will continue to write more stories in this world, I think there's a lot of opportunity for further exploration. I haven't read another book quite like this in a long time, but I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Binti by Nnedi Okorafor.  Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water   goes on sale May 21st!
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[this review will be up on my blog, acquadimore.wordpress.com, on 13 May 2019]

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.
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.
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