This is a collection of short stories written by one woman under two pen names. I went into this one a huge fan of Robin Hobb, but I'd only previously read one story by Megan Lindholm, and as good as that one story was, I wasn't sure what to expect of the Lindholm offerings. I was not only pleasantly surprised at their quality, but I was also impressed by just how different in both tone and setting they were from the Hobb stuff. The first seven stories are the Lindholm ones, although the last three, the Hobb stories, take up just as many pages.
A Touch Of Lavender: A very moving and sad SF story with very unique and interesting aliens. The main character is a poor boy whose mother is essentially a groupie who becomes a "gropie," a pejorative term for someone who becomes addicted to the chemical exuded by the skin of the aliens. A lot of different topics covered in a relatively short story, everything from poverty and addiction to social stigmas and inter-species love. Pretty heavy, but very good.
Silver Lady And The Fortyish Man: One of my least favourite stories in this collection, this was nonetheless a decent tale, which I think speaks to the strength of Lindholm's skill at characterization. A somewhat autobiographical urban fantasy story about a struggling would-be writer in search of her lost Muse, this was also a pretty funny story. That's cool, as humour is something I haven't seen very much of in Hobb's writing.
Cut: Another really heavy SF story, this one with a point to make, but I appreciated that Lindholm was ambiguous with regards to her actual position on the topic. It's a thorny topic too, because body modification is something which is quite common in North America; I myself have a number of tattoos, and my wife has both tattoos and piercings. Although I think circumcision is weird and archaic and I would never consider having it done to any child of mine, my wife asked me the other day what I thought would be an appropriate age to get our daughter's ears pierced, and my first thought was of this story.
The Fifth Squashed Cat: At first glance, this is a rather silly urban fantasy about getting powers by putting roadkill in your mouth. Once you look a little closer, however, you'll see that not only does Lindholm subvert a number of fantasy cliches, but she also skilfully critiques a certain holier-than-thou set of personality traits which one might be tempted to overlook in the average protagonist if Lindholm hadn't made a point of putting them prominently on display. Masterfully done.
Strays: This was my least favourite story in the book, and even this one was still okay. It was an urban fantasy with decent characters and a good premise, but I felt that the ending came out of nowhere and since it was the only part of the story with a fantasy element to it, it felt a little tacked on. It wasn't a bad story, but it wasn't great.
Finis: This was sort of an urban horror drama, and even though it was fairly apparent where the tale was headed, it was still engrossing. I also enjoyed that it was told from the point of view of a carpenter - I can say, speaking as a carpenter, that it was fairly well done. Lindholm/Hobb has a definite affinity for the blue-collar man.
Drum Machine: A sort-of-dystopian SF story tackling the seemingly disparate issues of eugenics/genetic engineering and composition of popular music. Lindholm does a terrific job of comparing these two issues in a way that made sense within the context of the tale. What Lindholm doesn't do so well is portray the different arguments with the same semblance of neutrality that she maintained in Cut. That said, it was still a really good story.
Homecoming: Now we get into the Robin Hobb stuff. This was actually my third read of this particular story, and it got better every time I read it, honestly. Told in a series of diary entries (reminiscent of Bram Stoker's Dracula), it features a spoiled and fairly unlikable protagonist who eventually finds personal redemption through hardship and changes herself in her attempts to adapt to her new way of life (similar to Malta Vestrit when described like that). In addition to being a fascinating piece of history in the Realm of the Elderlings, this was just a plain old good read.
The Inheritance: Back to Bingtown for this one, and thrust fully once more into Trader politics. This is an old fashioned revenge story, Robin Hobb style, which means little action and lots of character development and riveting dialogue-driven confrontations. It's incredible that Hobb can create such believable characters and electrifying interactions in a twenty page short story.
Cat's Meat: Wow, Robin Hobb is really good at writing credible scumbags. From the introduction of the villain in this story, the reader (or this reader at any rate) is desperately wishing this guy would get what he deserves, and of course by the end he does. The fact that Marmalade the cat plays such a huge role in Pell's downfall should surprise no one who actually owns a cat, as cat owners know that cats are spiteful, vindictive, and somewhat evil...and that's why we love them.
I owned this book for quite some time before I actually read it, and now I regret having put it on the back burner. I was already a big fan of this woman's novels, and it turns out her short works are every bit as good.