NOTE: Copied this review from Amazon for the excellent detail it gives. Author name at end.
IRRESISTIBLE FORCES is a collection of six stories from s/f and romance heavy hitters. The best story of the lot, "Winterfair Gifts," is by Lois McMaster Bujold, and features two minor characters from her Vorkosigan novels exploring a most unusual romance amidst a backdrop of mystery and intrigue.
Only caveat: I'm unsure if someone who hasn't read much of Ms. Bujold's Vorkoverse would understand this story. Since I've read every single book Ms. Bujold has ever put out, I cannot answer that question.
But I enjoyed it very much, and thought it well worth the price of the entire book. (I bought this collection solely for that story, and looked at the other stories as an "added bonus.")
Five stars, and I'd give it more if I had 'em. :)
After that, the stories get tougher to rate. I liked Catherine Asaro's story, "Stained Glass Heart," much more than I thought I would; it appears to be an outtake from her Skolian universe series, and has two young, apparently doomed lovers, a highly stratified society, and an arranged marriage. Love, family, duty, honor, and "keeping up appearances" are all themes in this story, and all worked.
The biggest problem with this story is that the protagonists are very young -- the older of the two is seventeen -- and the two youngsters are dealing with some very adult subjects. Nothing wrong with that, exactly, just a bit offputting considering that every other story in this collection deals with clear-cut adults -- most protagonists are at least twenty-five or so.
The plot is one we've seen before, with a few twists (I don't want to spoil 'em, so I won't go into 'em here). However, it's done well here, the science fictional bits are well chosen, and if it's representative of the Skolian universe as a whole, I might have to give Ms. Asaro's work another try.
I think this is the best story I've read from Ms. Asaro, and I'd give it three and a half stars, even though I still don't understand the meaning of this story's title (except for the obvious).
I enjoyed Jo Beverley's story (I forget the title) that juxtaposed Winston Churchill, the far future, and what happens when heroes return to their homes -- but it took a long, long time to develop and the language used was rather clunky and got in the way of the story. (As far as I know, this is Ms. Beverley's first-ever attempt at a science fiction/fantasy story; it does work. But I think it would have worked better as a novel.)
Because the idea was so very strong and because I could see where Ms. Beverley was going with her story, I'd give her story three and a half stars.
"The Alchemical Marriage" by Mary Jo Putney was a decent story; it didn't really move me or engage me, but it wasn't a bad effort, exactly. I think the whole subject of how the Spanish Armada was deflected was too big for one short story; perhaps this would have been better suited as a novel subject?
And the lovers got together far, far too quickly for my taste.
Still, not bad, exactly. Just not right on the money.
Two stars for that one.
"Shadows in the Wood," by Jennifer Roberson, is another really tough one to rate. I like Ms. Roberson's writing -- I like it a whole lot. I also like the subject matter, how Ms. Roberson plays it out, and what happens in the story -- but once again, the story seems just way, way too short and truncated.
I mean, Maid Marian and Robin Hood meet Merlin? In a very short story? At the very end of the book?
Why was this story given such short shrift?
At any rate, I wish this story had been much longer. It was so enjoyable, I wanted a whole lot more.
So, I'd give the idea of the story four stars, and the writing five stars, but the fact that there wasn't enough room for the idea (and not enough room to develop it either) two. I guess I'll give it overall three stars, mainly because I do like the writer and the writing so much.
Finally, we come to Deb Stover and her good, but misplaced story "Skin Deep." This is a paranormal romance; it's a good paranormal, albeit very short, and I liked the characters.
But alongside three science fiction stories and two fantasies, it doesn't work. It just doesn't. Even if you count the Putney story as historical fantasy, it still doesn't work.
I think Ms. Stover's writing is good, and her storytelling is very interesting. She made me laugh more than any other author except for Ms. Bujold (whose writing I know very well from past experience; this was the first exposure I'd ever had to Ms. Stover). I liked her story.
But it had no place here. It threw off the tone of the anthology. And it threw the other stories even further off balance (and the anthology was already rather uneven to begin with).
Because of this story, I took off one star from the overall anthology rating (because of Ms. Bujold's very strong story, I'd normally have wished to give this anthology four stars, rounding the overall stars upward rather than down as I did here) -- but I'd still recommend this particular story to paranormal romance readers.
I know that has to sound odd; in effect, I'd give the story itself a four star rating, but separate it from the other five stories, because it just does not fit.
In conclusion, this is an uneven effort, but worth reading despite the unevenness.
Three stars, recommended for people who want to branch out from romance to s/f or vice versa.