Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan
Reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Bee is a telepath and a criminal. Sentenced to life in a constantly evolving prison of caves, her only companion is Chela. She and Chela are desperately in love and each of them has very different attitudes towards their captivity and it’s constant dangers. And, it turns out, their realities.
Kaftan an is an author who plays, effortlessly, with perception and language and it’s a real pleasure to see them delivering something at this length. The Tor line of novellas has been universally strong so far but this quiet, odd, intimate book is a particular standout. The first half evokes have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream with its nightmarish caves and eternal prison both of physicality and of guilt. Bee is acutely aware of what’s she did and it becomes her magnetic North, an impossible problem she can’t solve. Great power wielded with no responsibility.
Or is it?
The ambiguity of the second half is completely different and just as successful. The way that guilt is questioned, and the way the love between Bee and Chela is approached from different perspectives, is effortlessly impressive and constantly surprising. It also, despite the psychic abilities in play, feels grounded and real. This is a story about people finding out how to make peace with who they are. It’s a universal story with extraordinary power and appeal and Kaftan approaches it with their customary grace and intelligence. The nature of the core relationship and the collision between that and the conflict between self-image and self-loathing is especially well explored. This is a story not just about perception but about the emotional weight we place on perception and it deals with complex issues with nuance, intelligence and grace.
This is a short, powerful, dense and well-realised novella. Character-driven science fiction at it’s best, its yet another strong entry in Tor’s remarkably powerful slate.