Lily of the Wastelands by Gabriel Belthir
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Lily of the Wastelands has the kind of meaty world building I’ve been craving. The story is very short so the plot and characterizations suffer somewhat for the intricate world building and solid happy ending. There’s simply not enough time and space for an in depth exploration of all the issues brought up but as is, the story is a nice foray into the genre with some creativity. The romance is well crafted and fits with both the shortened space and overall atmosphere. I think the story would have really benefited with a longer length and the ability to flesh out the intriguing concepts and issues brought up but I can’t complain about a tight, well crafted short story either.
The plot is solid and ties into the world building incredibly well. Here is a group of survivors, large by post-apocalyptic standards, on a mission to find a better life somewhere out west. They have a purpose and a specific destination, which makes for a nice change from the random travel with no real reason except to keep looking and hoping. The very specific goal also gives a definite ending when achieved. The group is not rag-tag but chosen with deliberate care for their abilities and insights.
Here I’d definitely have liked more development into the various backgrounds of the individual leaders, thirteen in all, and especially Evie Jones. As the third person narrator, Jones is an unrepentant lesbian in a world that looks for purpose. Women are meant to reproduce so being gay seems to be seen as either a luxury or defiance. The author touches on these issues but not with as much depth as they deserve. This is of course due to the length so it doesn’t bother me per se but intrigues me to want to read more.
Likewise the world building is really great. It’s creative, interesting, and a new twist on a familiar genre. Of course I’d love to know more about the concepts brought up but I really enjoyed the barren world, sense of hope, creative use of supplies, and the feeling that a new life is truly possible for this group. The writing here is what drew me in from the start. The atmosphere comes alive (or dead really) with a few carefully chosen words and phrases. The writing is economical but still fluid and expressive. Such a complex world is amazingly brought to life in such a short space with surprising depth and nuance. You can really imagine this dry, dusty land with a hint of potential.
The characterization is decent and the romance is a nice subplot without distracting or becoming the dominant plot thread. I had a few qualms with some of the plot choices that feel too easy or too rushed and the end result about Jones had me questioning. I was confused why Jones ended up being the chosen person for the baby but it makes for a nice happy ending I suppose.
While I had some minor issues with the characters and the pace of the plot, the world building and mostly clean writing win me over easily. I quite like this author’s voice and look forward to more from them. Although I don’t usually read lesbian romance, I found the story itself drew me in so much that I was hooked. This would be a good one for those that like the genre – science fiction/post-apocalyptic – and those that are new to lesbian romance aren’t likely to be turned off as the romance is definitely lighter than say in m/m or m/f romance stories.