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Plant the Laurel Tree

These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart

By Izzy Wasserstein 

29 Feb, 2024

Miscellaneous Reviews


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Izzy Wasserstein’s 2023 These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart is a science fiction mystery1.

Theodora Madsen is a security expert, not a detective. However, when an old friend from Dora’s former commune arrives with unwelcome news, detective is the role Dora finds herself playing.

Dora’s ex-girlfriend Kay is dead.

In a mid-21st-century world divided between a very small number of haves, the haves’ servants, and the vast hordes of have-nots, the commune offered refuge and support. In Dora’s opinion, the commune was too accepting, too unwilling to compromise principle for security. Even bloody violence could not shake Kay and the other commune members’ resolve. Enraged, Dora left. She never made time to reconnect with Kay.

Now that is no longer an option. Kay is dead, victim of an overdose. Or so the person who murdered Kay wanted it to appear. Dora establishes to her satisfaction that Kay was murdered. Now all Dora needs to do is find the guilty party.

Dora’s revelation is unwelcome news to the commune. Not only is Dora an outsider by her own choice, her claim has a disturbing implication. The only people in a position to murder Kay were her fellow commune members. Someone whom everyone regards as a friend is the killer.

Dora soon discovers that while the actual culprit may be a commune member, the reason for the killing has roots in the grasping corporations that rule the remains of 21st America. The mastermind responsible has resources far beyond Dora’s… including an army of brainwashed killers, each of whom has Dora’s former face.


It’s so rare that I get to say, the solution would delight Murdoch Mysteries’ George Crabtree.” Yet here we are. The explanation for the murder, and the revelations that follow would delight George Crabtee.

I didn’t see an organic way to include it in the above synopsis, but while Dora’s now a woman, she was AMAB (assigned male at birth). Someone creating duplicates through various means would end up with a legion of men, at least at first glance.

Note that I will permanently airlock TERFs with no warning, without regard to any past friendship we might have had. Even if they’re just asking questions.” Don’t test me on this.

As horrifying dystopias go, the people in this one have it pretty sweet, at least until certain technologies I won’t mention due to spoilers get off the ground. At long as people aren’t impediments to some corporate goal, they’re free to lead lives of impoverished desperation until cut down in the cross-fire between corporations or die from some other social or climate-induced cause. They are even permitted to form weird little mutual support communities, as long as it doesn’t visibly cost an important person money. OK, that may not sound all that wonderful, but it’s better than having a theocrat dictate social and gender rules. So put this down as not great but probably better than what’s coming.”

One might even deem the setting borderline utopian. Despite the occasional murder, the commune somehow prevails, managing to cling to its founding premises despite the usual tendency of humans to act like humans (i.e. rowdy primates), and the costs to the community of being faithful to their guiding precepts2. This is generally not the way to bet for such communities.

Like the Watt-Evans novel I reviewed recently, Graces is an actual science fiction mystery, one whose McGuffin could not be replaced with a manila envelope. The reasons for the murder are inherently SFnal.

Despite the novella’s brevity, Wasserstein skillfully packs quite a lot into his pages. This fast-paced noir is an espresso of a mystery, delivering a jolt longer books might struggle to match.

These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books). If Apple sells Graces, their obfuscatory web design successfully hid Graces from me.

1: This is an upcoming work if you’re reading this before March 132024.

2: Unfortunately, the means that the commune appears to have used to accomplish this — have uncorruptible, determined people leading the community — are hard (but not impossible) to implement in real life. Hence all those communes that became cults and all the communes that fell apart the moment the one responsible adult left.