Cover Image: These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart

These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart

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Very interesting story taking place in a post-apocalyptic USA (Kansas City specifically), with an interesting take on society, how trans people would survive, heck, how anyone not super rich would survive. It’s actually a murder mystery that sort of falls into the MC’s lap. The characters are all very interesting and distinct. For such a short book, a quick read this one is very interesting.

There are some things I wish Wasserstein had fleshed out just a bit, but only until she mentioned inner lives of the characters that we hadn’t really been privy to much.

Thanks to Netgalley, Tachyon and Izzy Wasserstein for providing this ARC

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I wanted to read These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart because I loved the title so much. Dora is trans. I haven’t read many books with trans characters. I liked Dora a lot. She’s determined to find out what happened to Kay, even when people make it clear they don’t want her to investigate she refuses to back down, dragging up the past and revisiting old memories she thought were long buried. This is a short book but never felt like a short read if you know what I mean. I was gripped from start to finish. I had a good time reading this book and would recommend it.

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Sometimes we get stuck in a loop, too stubborn for our own good. Sometimes we have good reason to be stubborn. I was thinking a lot about trauma as I read These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart, by Izzy Wasserstein. This is a novella that knows exactly what it’s about and does exactly what it’s meant to do. Although it didn’t end up wowing me, I still thoroughly enjoyed its premise and execution. I received an eARC in exchange for a review.

If Dora knows one thing, it’s op sec. She left a commune over a disagreement about security: as anarchists, they wanted their commune to be as open as possible, whereas Dora believed more stringent checks and balances were required to keep out people who might have nefarious, ulterior motives. When she is called back to the commune to investigate the murder of her ex-girlfriend, Kay, Dora’s worst fears seem to have been proved well-founded. Her investigation will take her into neighbourhoods even more destitute than the one where the commune crouches and pit her against enemies who wear her face from before her transition.

Much of my criticism of These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart might be waved away by simply saying, “It’s a novella, Kara.” The other characters are paper thin. The villain is predictable, and his overarching motives are shrouded in convenient shorthands. The setting is something ripped straight out of Verhoven, Robocop tinted for modern storytelling. These criticisms levelled at a novel-length work might stick. Applied to a novella, however, they actually become strengths. Because this is not really a mystery.

No, this is a story about identity. The brilliance of this story lies in how Dora deals with one of her clones, whose life she spares.

Here come the spoilers.

Dora deals with her rescued clone’s emergence into individuality quite gracefully. I appreciate how much she respects Theo’s agency, to the point that she carefully avoids using pronouns until Theo, at the very end, settles on they/them. This is a potent reminder of the fluidity of gender: Theo might be genetically identical to Dora, but their experiences and memories are distinct. I suppose that should mitigate my discomfort over the idea of Theo and Dora having sex … still.

I appreciate that Wasserstein acknowledges in the afterword that this development is hella weird, that she simply couldn’t find a way to tell the story without it happening because Theo insisted. The consent thing isn’t as much an issue for me—I understand Theo’s perspective there—but … yeah … hmm. As an asexual and sex-averse person, I’ve never much thought about sex with a partner—would partnered sex with myself be … better? Even if that self is me through a funhouse mirror, as Dora describes her pre-transition clones? See, this ese are the important questions science fiction is here to ask!

Gonzo sexuality subplots aside, Dora and Theo’s nascent friendship is the heart of this story. The way that Theo goes from enemy to lover to friend is very endearing. Set against a backdrop of post-apocalyptic, capitalist purgatory, these connections become all the more significant. Dora, now that she has left the commune, is very alone and lonely. Although her being alone hasn’t changed by the end of the story, I think her loneliness has started to unravel. She starts to see that in order to protect, one has to have something worth protecting.

These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart is as cute as a semi-noir, grim dystopian science-fiction novella can be. Wasserstein effectively pulls from established tropes, particularly around cloning, to tell a story of choosing found family over blood and staying true to one’s ideals while still learning to bend and grow. It’s worth an afternoon of your time.

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(Content warnings: murder, transphobia, violence, gun violence, moderate sexual content, drug use)

I heard "trans" "technothriller" and "clones" and immediately knew I was in for a fun ride <3

I really enjoyed the iconic noir tone and absolutely fell in love with Dora - look, give me a character with very little regard for her own life to a suicidal degree who'll fight tooth and nail for her friends, and I'm SOLD.
Where the story suffers is its brevity, honestly - I do love a fast-paced thriller, but the shortness of the book left frustratingly little space for worldbuilding, atmosphere and character development (especially glaring in Theo's case). I think the concept behind the story is phenomenal, and as a huge fan of clone narratives (and a nonbinary person) it was exciting seeing it through a trans lens, but even so I was left wanting more, and not in a good way. I would've liked to see it delve deeper into the themes of personhood and autonomy, the ethical implications, and all the complicated feelings Dora and Theo have about it.

Overall, very cool idea with lots of potential, but MAN it should've been a full novel 😭

(Thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for the ARC!)

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These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart by Izzy Wasserstein is a novella that was marketed as a noir/technothriller with a trans protagonist, by a trans author, all of which are right up my alley. I definitely got the noir vibes, even though it was quite subtle but still there, and the rest of the promises were delivered too.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland, more accurately Kansas City, after some cataclysmic events destroyed most of the comforts we're familiar with and it barely functions as a city anymore. There's not much worldbuilding though, we never get the full picture of how this apocalypse came to be and it's a bit generic, but climate catastrophe, war, disease, and nuclear weapons are all mentioned briefly.

My main impression was that this story totally reads like a game! I can already see it in my mind's eye, a point-and-click adventure game with dark, moody pixel art. I love it when books remind me of games so this is certainly a plus. It also speaks to how atmospheric TFGTFH is, by being able to conjure such a distinct image in me.

There are also strong anti-capitalist, and anarchist undertones which I think will sit well with the target audience of this book. In good cyberpunk tradition, there are also evil megacorporations at work.

My only complaint I guess is that I wish it was a full-length novel. I liked the story, the conclusion, and the style, but I wish there was more time to flesh out the characters and the plot, to make it simmer longer. But I still wholeheartedly recommend it if any of this sounds appealing to you.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Tachyon Publications for the e-ARC of the book in exchange for my honest review! 💜

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This novella speaks my language: queer, noir, cyberthriller. This combination of genre keywords is like magic for my mind and soul. I’m always up for the latter two (see Harkaway’s Titanium Noir!), but add in queer and I’m soaring.

This is an engrossing and intriguing novella about a trans woman who sets out to investigate the murder of her former lover who was still living at the anarchist commune that she herself left in a fit of grief and pique some time ago. It explores themes of identity, memory, grief, belonging, nihilism, control, security, friendship, ethics versus morals, creating and maintaining safe spaces, and self-discovery.

I think reading the afterword for this novella is very important. I don’t always read the afterword in a book, but sometimes it’s nice to read where an author’s head was at when you have questions about why they might have written something a certain way (even if you have your own theories, which is fine). When some authors write, characters take on minds of their own and start to make choices the author didn’t think they’d make when they started writing. Reading the afterword for this book helped me understand where Wasserstein was coming from in her writing, even with my own theories floating inside my head.

This was a great read and I highly recommend it. Since this is a trans sci-fi and does involve trauma and some hate speech I suggest you look up CW/TWs online if you need them.

I was provided a copy of this title by NetGalley and the author. All thoughts, opinions, views, and ideas expressed herein are mine and mine alone. Thank you.

File Under: LGBTQ Fiction/Mystery/Noir/Novella/OwnVoices/Science Fiction

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My favorite thing about this book was the hopeful sense of community despite the Dystopian Horrors, while also making space for the kinds of in-group bickering that can result from too many idealistic people in one space.

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Set in a dystopian future cyberpunk Kansas City, Dora reenters the world of her old commune to solve the murder of her ex-girlfriend. It includes corporate intrigue, bad science (as in, science used for world domination purposes), and complex characters which would normally be a recipe for a home run as far as my book tastes go, but I'm actually really conflicted.

This book starts fast and ends faster and in that, I'm disappointed. The story was comprehensive, the plot moved, the characters were well-defined but I wanted MORE; how are the mega-corps affecting people where Dora lives now? Who are her neighbors and what do they think of her security measures? What happened to her mom and how does she feel about Dora's dad's megalomania (and transphobia)?!??

Wasserstein is, in my opinion, a very good author (and has some short story anthologies that I am definitely going to check out), able to build an immersive world and write compelling characters in less than 200 pages, and I can't wait to see what she does with a longer book.

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Imgur link goes to Instagram graphic scheduled for March 12th
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To be discussed in March Wrap-up Pt 1 on Youtube

**TL;DR**: Some weird choices were made here, but I didn't dislike my time. I would definitely read more from the author.

These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart is a tightly packed murder mystery novella about a woman solving the murder of her ex within the anarchist commune she used to call home. It’s been years since Dora left the commune but a friend brings her back to view the body of her former lover. She quickly notices it’s more the sight of a murder than the sight of an overdose (as it’s stagged to look) and she takes off to figure out what happened.

The story is dark, and noir in vibes and style. Dora is a exactly what you’d expect in that. She’s weirdly capable, supposedly an expert in security systems though we’re told this more than shown it. Additionally she’s hunted by clones as she proceeds in her investigation and that leads her to fighting, and well which seems to fight the type. She wouldn’t be someone I’d enjoy having tea with but she kept the story moving and at times showed real introspection and interesting thoughts.

The biggest issue I had with the book, and you’ll find it if you search enough reviews, is the romantic choice in the story. It was… bold. Uncomfortable and definitely not one I support, but bold. Besides that it was a bit on the predictable side and I wish we’d had a bit more nuance than what we got. It was very clear with it’s statements and used very standard story features to say those things.

It’ll definitely work for some but not if you’re opposed to the super noir and dark stories. If you’re interested give it a shot!

3 out of 5 Shady Big Corporations

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Sometimes a combination of genres is just enough to make me squee, ‘oh yes!’ and here we have them: a futuristic, dystopian mystery, techno-thriller noir. Then layer that with the theme of being trans, not fitting in for other reasons, throw in some corporate shenanigans, abusive parents – and oh yes, cloning o.O

This is sliver of quite dark near-future dystopia. The technology is advanced, but otherwise it feels close enough to be chilling. Society seems to have crumbled, with various ‘otherness’ corralled into little enclaves, for community and safety.

Dora’s opinions on certain matters forced her out of her commune, but now she’s back, called on to investigate the suspicious death of her former lover, Kay. Few in the community are willing to accept it wasn’t a tragic accident, but Dora’s skillset is such that she’s not going to let the matter drop. Her investigation soon uncovers some far bigger and more sinister goings on than she was prepared for – not least, meeting herself. Sort of.

The whole story – short as it is – places us firmly in Dora’s head, and thankfully she is a strong and interesting character to carry that. There’s a lot of past trauma to be uncovered, and how that affects choices in the present.

I have to be honest, there is some sexual content that I – not remotely a prude – wasn’t entirely sure about. I don’t mean that it’s graphic at all, but… well, no spoilers. However, the issues of consent and appropriate behaviour are sort of the point. I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with it all, but given the ‘own voice’-ness of the writing, I shall bow to better knowledge on the subject than my own.

Mostly, though, this is a taut little mystery, with huge dollops of sci-fi that totally enthralled me. It’s got layers packed into that short length, and the blend is absolutely excellent at bringing something that bit fresh to the table.

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This novella puts us into the not-too-distant future in Kansas City. The “haves” have a lot and the “have-nots” have very little indeed. There seems to have been some sort of climate disaster along with a political shift, resulting in corporations having a lot of power and government having very little presence. Widespread stable electricity and clean water are both luxuries.

Dora is our main character, a trans woman who left an urban commune a few years ago, after a dispute over security, or the lack thereof. When word arrives of the death of her ex, Kay, Dora visits the commune. When she realizes that Kay was murdered, she vows to find the culprit, even if they are members of the commune. If this sounds like a detective story, don’t worry; it’s more heavily a sci-fi story with a mystery at its core.

It was very interesting to have a trans woman at the core of the story, especially one with cyber skills as well as street-smarts. And there are clones! I’m not sure exactly where the title comes from, but the story is solid.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for the opportunity to read an advance readers copy of this novella. All opinions are my own.

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I picked up this book intending to just read a little bit to get a feel for it, but instead found myself devouring the whole thing in one sitting. For a fairly quick read, there's a lot of interesting things going on. I did find the early set-up a bit clunky, especially placing Dora to investigate "whodunit", but as the story moved beyond a simple mystery, it quickly found its groove and won me over. (I admit to having a bias in favor of science fiction over detective stories, though.) The world that Wasserstein has created is frightening because it feels very realistic, but there were enough bright spots in the story that it didn't feel totally bleak. I thought the ideas that were explored in the story were interesting and thought-provoking, and I also really appreciated the author's afterward giving some insight into how she arrived at those ideas and her approach to the story.

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Playing Citizen Sleeper got me in the mood to finally get around to my ARC copy of This Fugitive Heart which was short enough to never lose my attention but long enough to have a fully-fledged story. Set in a cyberpunk future, Dora, a trans woman, is called back to the commune she once left after the accidental death of her ex by overdose. In true thriller fashion, her wasn't accidental and this kickstart a series of events that leads to the author questioning the intersection of cloning and transness. I won't say too much because I'm already spoiling some things but given that the afterword is dedidated to the author's thoughts on the topic, I think it's worth mentioning in the review.

With a novella, it's hard to review it without spoiling the plot, or saying it's good/bad/boring. I believe that This Fugitive Heart is really worth reading for anyone interested in cyberpunk and its intersection with transness.

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This novella is both a recognisable addition to a classic traditional, and a beautiful voice of its own. FUGITIVE HEART reads like the best cyberpunk and neo-noir, with the added punch of corporate ambition twisted in a deeply personal case for the protagonist, Dora. Highly recommended.

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More than the mystery itself, what stood out and made this book enjoyable was the exploration of how self-identity is impacted by experience and the friction between freedom and security. These themes are hashed out through the protagonist’s relationships with her former community and the clone sent to kill her.
Dora, a trans woman and security consultant, returns to the anarchist commune she cut ties with years ago to investigate her ex-girlfriend’s murder. In doing so, she stirs up the same conflict that led to her departure the first time — what security measures or curtailing of freedoms is acceptable to keep the community safe?
At the same time, she is dealing with attacks from clones of her pre-transition self. She captures one of these clones who joins her in the investigation and begins to explore their own identity. The clone — designated Blue — and Dora’s messy relationship and complicated feelings towards each other, as well as Blue’s growth as a character, we’re some of the best parts of the novel. The combination of seeing themselves in each other (positively and negatively) and as different people on different journeys to understanding themselves was interesting and showing this with a trans character added to it.
The clone fucking was not my favorite thing, I’ll admit, but I’ll take it for the sake of the story.

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A completely believable, dystopic Kansas City where the police and everything else are basically run by corporations and only for the rich (cue an Australian rant about modern USA, if you please).

An anarchic commune that's attempting to be a place where people feel safe, and are allowed to be what and who they want - and which really gets up the nose some rich people.

A trans woman, Dora, who used to live in said commune, and left over differences of opinion about security, and has been making her way for the last few years as a security consultant.

And Dora's ex-girlfriend, still living in the commune, who is found dead - allegedly of an overdose, but Dora discovers evidence of foul play.

This is a fast-paced thriller that I devoured very quickly. Dora is complex, driven, committed, sometimes bitter, and absolutely determined to get answers, even when that might hurt herself or other people. The setting is believable and horrifying, drawn with broad strokes but enough detail that you can see Wasserstein has put a lot of thought into it; and it makes me wonder what modern KC-dwellers think of it, and if they can see the places she describes. It works as a thriller - there are twists and reveals - and just overall it's very clever. Hugely enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing what else Wasserstein has up her sleeve.

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I love what this book was trying to do but unfortunately the execution didn’t work for me at all.
If I’d known it was so short, I likely wouldn’t have requested it, so that’s on me.

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Review publishes on 2/25/24.

THESE FRAGILE GRACES, THIS FUGITIVE HEART is a queer thriller about a trans woman who returns to her former anarchist compound and ends up investigating her ex's murder. It intimacy, autonomy, and connection, as well as the timeless question of "if you fuck your own clone, is it incest or masturbation?"

THESE FRAGILE GRACES strange and vibrant, set in a dystopia with governmental and corporate neglect inversely proportional to the wealth of the residents, when any remain at all. The worldbuilding is drawn in broad strokes, only explaining as much as is relevant to Dora's thoughts at any one moment. What is explained is about the result, not the path to get there, as much of the collapse happened before her lifetime.

Even as the mystery part of the story takes a bit of a backseat to Dora's identity crisis when confronted with her clones, it never loses the tense thread which began with her ex-girlfriend's murder and sudden return to a place she left under stressful circumstances.

If you like queer dystopian thrillers, don't miss THESE FRAGILE GRACES, THIS FUGITIVE HEART.

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

"These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart" is a technothriller story that's not only very queer, but also very anarchist in its philosophy. It's about Dora, a trans woman who'd left her commune a couple years back after some arguments about its philosophy. Now Dora must return to the commune as her ex-girlfriend Kay was murdered, so she must investigate and make sure nobody else has to die. As she investigated more and more, she was attacked by clones of her pre-transition self, and she realized that she (and the commune) was stuck in a war between two big merciless corporations, and she must find a way to get them out of that problem, while also solving the murder.

Despite the length, this book managed to not only pack a fast-paced plot that feels complete (novellas sometimes feel like they're meant to be longer, not the case here) while for the most part) while also having some really interesting commentary about transness and self-determination. The book also uses the concept of clones in a way that I found really interesting and I've never seen before. It's done in such a way that it also explores the idea of identity especially in the context of being transgender. A lot of people will probably see this part of the story as being problematic, but as the author said in the afterword, queer characters should be able to be problematic too, just like everyone else, and this was a good way to go about it.

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There have been numerous stories throughout the history of science fiction that take place in locations that are in the remains of once prosperous and populous cities. The reasons these cities are a shambles, shadows of their former selves, are irrelevant to the story. THESE FRAGILE GRACES, THIS FUGITIVE HEART is a novella that takes place in a portion of Kansas City that has been abandoned by the city government. There is little or no police presence, no supported infrastructure, everything is rundown. There is a portion of Kansas City that is well protected and taken care of, but the location of the story here has been left on its own.

Dora, a transgender former security expert, is living in self-imposed exile from the commune she used to inhabit with her girlfriend Kay. Things were becoming more dangerous there, and things were happening that Dora couldn't explain. She wanted to tighten up security, make the place safer for residents of the commune. The changes were controversial and voted down, so she left, abandoning Kay and the rest of the commune. As the story opens, Dora is returning to the commune to investigate the apparent murder by drug overdose of Kay. Her return to the commune is met with suspicion and resistance, since she burned more than a few bridges when she left. While it's apparent that just maybe Dora was right about the changes she wanted to implement to the commune's security procedures, those arguments have to be put aside so that Dora can find out just what happened to Kay and maybe prevent it from happening to someone else.

Kay's investigation opens the door to a number of other incidents, including people disappearing, a new drug circulating around the abandoned parts of Kansas City, and a war between two corporations, one of which employs her father, who refuses to recognize the transitioned Dora as his daughter. During her investigation she is attacked - by clones of herself from her pre-transition past. Dora manages to take one of these clones under her wing and convince them to help her get to the bottom of just what is going on.

THESE FRAGILE GRACES, THIS FUGITIVE HEART is a noir technothriller, with Dora playing the part of the obsessed, insomniac private investigator trying to solve a complex puzzle. The difference is, of course, that this is a science fiction story with many of the trappings that accompany the genre. But it's much more than that. It raises questions of identity - so, you are transgender and you meet a clone of yourself, and how do you handle that situation anyway, especially if only for a little while the emotional situation results in physical needs? - belonging, and family. It's well written with terrific dialog and tells a great story. As with most stories, this one is probably not for everyone, but if you do take a chance on it I think you won't be disappointed. And, once again, I've encountered a writer that I haven't known previously but certainly look forward to reading more from. It seems that my to be read stack will continue to get larger, and there's no end in sight.

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