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Jul 06, 2022 9:49 PM
Abrogail Thrune reviews submissions
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(note: this thread will be visible from ProjectLawful.com)

 

There's a portal to Abaddon in Osirion.

There's something sealed in Numeria, and whether or not it's become incredibly dangerous by now is something that won't ever be known, because it's very very sealed.

On a planet a dozen lightyears away from Golarion, inflation is spiraling out of control as people realize that they can buy a 10-foot ladder for 5 copper pieces, remove the rungs, and sell two 10-foot poles for 2 silver pieces each.

Another planet can't be described as N lightyears away for any N because math has stopped working there, plunging the local economy into even greater chaos.

And that's why Otolmens is not particularly prioritizing the interesting new romance novels that have started arriving for Abrogail Thrune's personal review.

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Yes, Abrogail does need to review all the novels for suitability of publication in Cheliax, because if she stops doing that, the novels may stop arriving and they seem quite valuable.  Also the entire universe may cease to exist.  Aspexia Rugatonn can't be bothered to explain all this, she's busy and it's obvious if you understand decision theory.

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...alllllll right then.

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A thriller/romance novel set during a cold war between two (magicless) fictional states somewhat more advanced than Golarion, which had a brief but very messy total war when the monarchy controlling the region collapsed, about a generation before the novel is set. Their confederation-alliances have imposed strict demilitarization of the entirety of their border regions ever since, but they still engage in a cold war. The Meritocracy of Pernik is nominally minarchist, in practice oligarchic-plutocratic and controlled primarily by families who were lesser nobility or major guilds in the predecessor state. The Vratsa Citizenry is an idealistic direct/liquid democracy* with socialist tendencies which broke sharply from the predecessor's power structures. Also depicted is Ohridski Independent, a university-microstate which stayed out of the war and is neutral ground; the protagonists first met while both students attending the university. The two viewpoint characters trade off perspective, and each switch is made when they meet face to face, whether in the DMZ, in the university's grounds, or another neutral country. The Perniki is the daughter of an aristocratic family who transitioned into the capitalist class smoothly, but are old-fashioned and sideline her due to lingering sexism; she manages an internal affairs bureau and a private security firm for her family. She is not particularly loyal to her country but is attached to the privileges of wealth and status. The Vratsan is also from an old family, but is a committed partisan for the democratic ideals of his country. He is a known field agent, though his service record is classified; comments from his counterpart imply that she has seen the sealed record anyway, and that he is the most highly decorated agent they have.

The action chapters cover espionage, sabotage, and assassinations; the Vratsan side shows him committing them personally, while the Perniki chapters show her making arrangements for others to act or actively directing response when part of her agency is targeted. The meetings involve a lot of trading barbed comments and hinting at knowledge of each other's actions, frequently joking about offers to defect, but also reminiscing about their history at school and romantically-charged comments about each other's competence and accomplishments. There is also a varying degree of implication that they're having sex off-screen, ranging from "meeting for coffee in the afternoon, next chapter picks up leaving town in the morning" to "leaves their hotel room keys under the dinner check when they leave the table"; nothing is shown on-screen. The last few chapters break from the pattern by having a female-lead portion end when she is in the direct line of fire from an unexpected operation she thinks is the male lead - the remainder of the book interleaves the two viewpoints as she acts personally against a follow-up attack, and both protagonists realize they're possibly going to kill their counterpart by morning. She realizes the intended target is a corrupt wing of her family's private police, and when his actions start to blare a meeting of grossly corrupt silencing of whistle-blowers, she hesitates for long enough to lose control, and while she coordinates 'damage control', she's internally conflicted about whether she regrets failing or not. The final meeting has the male lead arrive at her personal residence; she congratulates him on successfully inciting a run on the bank that is the keystone of her family's holdings, removing most of their wealth and power. He accepts it half-heartedly and states he knows she was almost in a position to prevent it, and says that he's unsure whether he wants to apologize for putting her on the spot. She's non-committal, but with some heat declares that she's not going to keep the house much longer, with the power shifting as much as it is. He kisses her hand**, hands her a manila folder, and leaves. She opens it and finds a passport and set of documents tailored for her, along with tickets and itinerary for travel to a neutral country and a destination she recognizes as the barony of a cousin branch of the male lead's family, who've maintained their title and holdings. A three-sentence epilogue describes a view from a window of the barony's seat, the warmth of a fire in the room, and a bedside table next to the window, where the passport rests on top of a rumpled blouse and skirt.

*The translator notes that this is a very flattering and somewhat anachronistic depiction of democracy for the time period; the sophistication of its mechanisms are unrealistic, as liquid democracy wasn't tried at this scale for another half-century, and most democracy in the time period was substantially more corrupt and dysfunctional, exclusionary, or both, than is seen here. The author is an openly-opinionated ideologue for liquid democracy and other direct-democracy-family forms of government. However, it was well-researched; though the succession crisis and particulars of the secession are fiction, Ohridski Independent is directly based on a real historical university in the region, and like several other universities, student government at the time is one of the known examples of small-scale attempts at liquid democracy.
**More overtly/standardly romantic than anything they have done on-screen at any earlier point.

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A classic novel controversial in its day. It is set in a period when humanity’s alien benefactors had pulled back a little, out of fear of humanity wiping itself out with their technology. The protagonist is an aspiring politician, in a country whose government is considered too repressive to get to trade with the aliens directly, though of course a rising tide lifts all boats. He hopes to rise through the ranks, reform his government to fit the aliens’ standards, and bring new prosperity to his country. The novel flips between detailing his progress on the campaign trail and a relationship he is conducting with a woman through correspondence, falling in love with her without ever seeing her face. He finally meets his girlfriend and finds out that she is an infamous anti-government terrorist–one of the youngest of a group that carried out several brutal attacks during a failed rebellion a decade ago, and the only one to successfully escape execution and go into hiding.

He is horrified, but she cries and begs him to give her another chance; she deeply regrets what she did in the war and just wants to stay out of politics now, as reforming the government isn’t worth any more bloodshed. The protagonist grapples with divided loyalties as his campaign advances. He has to choose between his dream of a political career and his girlfriend. In the end, he wins the race, but he never gives his acceptance speech–he has fled the country with his girlfriend to build a new life in a new place. An epilogue, a decade later, shows the protagonist and his wife reading news of their old country, which has reformed enough to resume trade with the aliens; they are hopeful that someday they will be able to return and show their children their old home.

(Cultural context notes at the end explain that execution is no longer practiced in the modern day, though euthanasia is offered if wanted to those whose crimes were so heinous they must be exiled to an island or imprisoned; while the aliens have relaxed their standards enough to trade with humans who do it, humans’ own moral standards have advanced to the point where any politician who proposed bringing back the death penalty would be voted out.)


rape, transphobia, forced marriage

This is more commonly classified in the nations of the Global Alliance as "porn" and not a "romance", but the category boundaries are fuzzy. It’s a dystopian sci-fi series about a colony on a far-future terraformed Red Planet which has cut off contact with the Global Alliance and its alien benefactors to experiment with more authoritarian forms of government; the cover has prominent “content notes” for “rape, transphobia, and forced marriage”, formatted and positioned as if they might be an advertisement as well as a warning. The framing device is “diaries from a period when the colony had lost certain technologies (or perhaps, it is implied, suppressed them to justify its atrocities)”; the focus is on the loss of genetic testing and assisted reproduction, and its use as a pretext for the government to run its eugenics program by arranging marriages (rather than subsidizing embryo selection) and disincentivize adultery by public flogging* (rather than universal paternity testing).

The first volume of the series follows a trans girl and her high school boyfriend as they come of age and are married off to other partners–the trans girl to several opposite-reproductive-role spouses as her genes are considered beneficial, the boyfriend to a same-reproductive-role spouse as his genes are considered deleterious. The trans girl is denied hormones to preserve her fertility, but granted other transition procedures she requests–electrolysis, breast augmentation, and facial feminization surgery. Sex scenes include “the trans girl is raped by each of her spouses (an older femme couple who were already married to each other, and a butch closer to her age on their first marriage) and taunted about how she’s betraying her beloved boyfriend by coming”, “the boy, who had only ever been dominant in relationships, learning to enjoy submitting to his husband (a man older, stronger, and more masculine than him)”, and “the trans girl and her boyfriend meeting up to fuck in secret, fearful of the consequences if they’re caught but unwilling to let the government split them up”.

*This is treated as dystopian only in that adultery is considered a criminal matter; of course corporal punishment is okay, without it we would have to go back to the bad old days of debt-slavery for petty-criminals who can’t pay their fines and imprisonment or island exile as first options for heinous-criminals!

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A doorstopper novel about a newly oathed Committed of Truth having a handwaved physics lab accident while there as a witness to the experimental results, and landing in an alternate universe where being committed to tell the truth is a serious liability. He wins over a local girl after she's initially incredibly suspicious of him because sliders are rare and sliders who aren't just pretending that they have to tell the truth as a thin tactic to make their lies believable are rarer, but he sticks to his oath through dangerous situations and she realizes he means it and helps him navigate the world in which they find themselves. They manage to send his family a letter but he does not go home.

A story about the household formation process for someone who has assumed for her entire life that one day she would live ALONE and no one would BOTHER her and she would listen to LOUD MUSIC and she would pick her nose in ANY room of the apartment she damn well pleased. She gradually accumulates friends and a love interest and realizes that it is possible to find living with other people actively desirable. The epilogue has the main character's toddler picking her nose in the middle of the dining room and the main character going "you know what, fair" about that. Also, everyone in the story has a prehensile tail, and there is light worldbuilding about how that would affect things.

A romance in which a mystical antlered forest-spirit meets, learns to communicate with, and falls in love with an ordinary person-who-has-a-pickup-truck-and-runs-errands (this occupation serving in lieu of a job). The author appears to kink on the antlers. The couple sublimates the forest spirit's trepidation about paths being made through their forest into kink.

A series of novels set in a world where there are regular people and also people genetically engineered to have wings and other features convenient for flight; the ancestors of the population of this planet did this so that the winged people would be able to perform certain maintenance on inaccessibly-located legacy technology after the underlying engineering knowhow was deliberately lost due to weapons having been developed to such a high level that they were soured on the entire concept. At the time of the novels this is not common knowledge and the maintenance procedures have fossilized into ritual, history having been rendered down into vague legends, and the books are mostly about the winged-person-run basically-benevolent theocracy's politics and the winged people romancing regular people. (Most of the series's books have an A- and B-plot structure, with a winged/non couple to accompany each plot.) The arc plot, over the course of several books, ultimately allows the characters to piece together the history and decide that they are as a civilization ready to try again at the whole technology thing.

Novel series in which a villain, shaped both by the traumatic circumstances of her childhood and the subtle but forceful consequences of the ways she has used her magic since then to survive, brings up several kids younger than her whom she managed to save from the aforementioned traumatic circumstances when someone went through their home and killed them all for what are remarkably understandable reasons given the givens. There's layers and layers like that, in several different places, every resolved conflict just peeling back a bit of an onion, every opportunity to button-mash the moral complexity button taken without making the main character and her love interest remotely unsympathetic. The main character and her love interest are profoundly adorable.

A forbidden romance between members of two fantasy species who have been at war for generations ends in the death of the woman whose side is losing; the guy basically suppresses having any reaction to this so he can remain functional in the other areas of his life but is confronted some years with her reincarnation who, upon having her memory jogged a bit, is pretty ticked off that as soon as she was dead he went right back to soldiering against her people. He is very apologetic and solicitous about this (once he's convinced of her identity). After many complications and more helpings of trauma they figure out how to scale up the process her father-figure-guy used to reincarnate her so they can bring back the war dead in a faraway place where the old conflict won't come till they've had a chance to build a more peaceful society.

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This novel that immediately appeared is labeled (after a Comprehend Languages spell) a smartmagic-contemporary-mystery-horror-thriller-romance! It contains a request that the reader not publish subcategories of fiction based on it out of "gratitude," (possible translation; the alternate possible translation is about sixteen words long and most of them are Abadarian nonsense about cross-temporal trade) and then opens with the plot, set in a disturbingly alien world. There are only humans, all of whom are fantastically rich, with their own houses and machines that can project light and communicate instantly across continents and all sorts of lightning-powered devices to replace servants and pills and ointments that can almost substitute for divine healing, but very little magic and no gods or afterlives. In between writing instantly-arriving letters to each other using complicated machines that can access all information not actively concealed and traveling vast speeds in giant steel wagons fueled by refined naptha, the male teenage hero (a low-level rogue, probably, with Locate Object as a supernatural ability?) full of wry humor and a breathtakingly idealistic (by Cheliax standards) perspective on the world investigates a series of murders amongst his friends, all of whom have supernatural powers which are widely believed not to function by society at large; he meets a the heroine, initially as a suspect, who is an immortal Chaotic Evil demihuman with a love of nature, a sadistic sense of humor, and magical powers which allow her to live forever as long as she continues murdering others and - using her aforementioned magical powers - devouring their corpses! He pursues the killer for vengeance, she to devour him to grow stronger, and the two cooperate in their quest! (This involves a lot of bickering about who, exactly, she is allowed to murder.)

The two leads immediately fall in love with each other, with extensive romantic tension (ultimately consummated off-screen) while they hunt down and kill the various monsters and undead who are doing the killing; however, since she's Chaotic Evil and he's Lawful Good, the romance also involves attempts by each of them to seduce the other over to their alignment, she with the promise of joy and immortality, he with the promise of rest and security. Also there's a love triangle with a paladin who wields weapons that project spheres of metal and lead that can penetrate any armor and move faster than arrows but she's not all that interesting aside from that. Ultimately, they triumph, solve the extremely complicated mystery, outmaneuver the paladin, and defeat the villains; the heroine fails to recruit the hero over to her cause and declines to stop murdering people long enough to settle down permanently with the hero, but agrees to stay "for a while." The book end cover mentions five alternate versions of the novel with different romances and plots, in none of which, per the description, the heroine successfully lures the hero to evil, though there's a potentially interesting mention of one where they're both witches making lots of pacts with different demon lords for power.

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A novel about two members of the same literary salon during a civil war, whose ideological loyalties place them on opposite sides, falling in love. It's an epistolary novel told primarily via the fiction, poetry, and letters the two lovers and other members of the salon write, although there are also occasional paintings. One of the lovers dies at the other's hand in battle in the second-to-last chapter, which is conveyed by the blood-like imagery in the subsequent art and poetry by the lover who killed them. Within the salon there is a sprawling implied polycule/love dodecahedron, which mostly isn't super relevant to the central tragedy or the background war politics but does come up frequently in the things they write to and for one another, and relationships within it frequently foil the relationship between the main couple. 

A novella about vampires which is in context a metaphor for domestic partner abuse. You are not supposed to root for the vampire at any point but she is charismatic and the blood drinking scenes are, in addition to being gut-wrenching in their depiction of the fed-on partner's inner conflict, sexy as hell.

This one, meanwhile, is 90% sex scene by volume and 80% subtexty characterization and political intriguing by mass. Most of the sex is probably notably kinky by non-malachitinous standards but to malachitinous eyes threatening one's partner with a knife, or tattooing them, is just straightforwardly a sex act. It's set in a guild coalition in 1600s Tisa and most of the plot is about the characters' relationships with one another-- there is another massive and sprawling polycule/love dodecahedron, this one much more relevant to everyone's journeys than the one in the epistolary-- but also their moral and interpersonal conflicts about one another's politicking. (There are a lot fewer Lawful characters than one would expect given the size of its cast but there isn't actually much of a Good/Evil skew?)

(The genders of characters were not literally selected at random when the books were translated into Taldane, but something approximately like that happened. In particular the translator of the intrigue/sex scene novel was sort of confused about whether one's gender and one's physical body are generally understood to have anything to do with each other.)

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Of the first novel she reads, out of Jiskworld: A thriller/romance novel set during a cold war between two fictional early-modern states which had a brief but very messy total war when the monarchy controlling the region collapsed, about a generation before the novel is set. Their confederation-alliances have imposed strict demilitarization of the entirety of their border regions ever since, but they still engage in a cold war. The Meritocracy of Pernik is nominally minarchist, in practice oligarchic-plutocratic and controlled primarily by families who were lesser nobility or major guilds in the predecessor state. The Vratsa Citizenry is an idealistic direct/liquid democracy* with socialist tendencies which broke sharply from the predecessor's power structures. Also depicted is Ohridski Independent, a university-microstate which stayed out of the war and is neutral ground; the protagonists first met while both students attending the university. The two viewpoint characters trade off perspective, and each switch is made when they meet face to face, whether in the DMZ, in the university's grounds, or another neutral country. The Perniki is the daughter of an aristocratic family who transitioned into the capitalist class smoothly, but are old-fashioned and sideline her due to lingering sexism; she manages an internal affairs bureau and a private security firm for her family. She is not particularly loyal to her country but is attached to the privileges of wealth and status. The Vratsan is also from an old family, but is a committed partisan for the democratic ideals of his country. He is a known field agent, though his service record is classified; comments from his counterpart imply that she has seen the sealed record anyway, and that he is the most highly decorated agent they have.

The action chapters cover espionage, sabotage, and assassinations; the Vratsan side shows him committing them personally, while the Perniki chapters show her making arrangements for others to act or actively directing response when part of her agency is targeted. The meetings involve a lot of trading barbed comments and hinting at knowledge of each other's actions, frequently joking about offers to defect, but also reminiscing about their history at school and romantically-charged comments about each other's competence and accomplishments. There is also a varying degree of implication that they're having sex off-screen, ranging from "meeting for coffee in the afternoon, next chapter picks up leaving town in the morning" to "leaves their hotel room keys under the dinner check when they leave the table"; nothing is shown on-screen. The last few chapters break from the pattern by having a female-lead portion end when she is in the direct line of fire from an unexpected operation she thinks is the male lead - the remainder of the book interleaves the two viewpoints as she acts personally against a follow-up attack, and both protagonists realize they're possibly going to kill their counterpart by morning. She realizes the intended target is a corrupt wing of her family's private police, and when his actions start to blare a meeting of grossly corrupt silencing of whistle-blowers, she hesitates for long enough to lose control, and while she coordinates 'damage control', she's internally conflicted about whether she regrets failing or not. The final meeting has the male lead arrive at her personal residence; she congratulates him on successfully inciting a run on the bank that is the keystone of her family's holdings, removing most of their wealth and power. He accepts it half-heartedly and states he knows she was almost in a position to prevent it, and says that he's unsure whether he wants to apologize for putting her on the spot. She's non-committal, but with some heat declares that she's not going to keep the house much longer, with the power shifting as much as it is. He kisses her hand**, hands her a manila folder, and leaves. She opens it and finds a passport and set of documents tailored for her, along with tickets and itinerary for travel to a neutral country and a destination she recognizes as the barony of a cousin branch of the male lead's family, who've maintained their title and holdings. A three-sentence epilogue describes a view from a window of the barony's seat, the warmth of a fire in the room, and a bedside table next to the window, where the passport rests on top of a rumpled blouse and skirt.

*The translator notes that this is a very flattering and somewhat anachronistic depiction of democracy for the time period; the sophistication of its mechanisms are unrealistic, as liquid democracy wasn't tried at this scale for another half-century, and most democracy in the time period was substantially more corrupt and dysfunctional, exclusionary, or both, than is seen here. The author is an openly-opinionated ideologue for liquid democracy and other direct-democracy-family forms of government. However, it was well-researched; though the succession crisis and particulars of the secession are fiction, Ohridski Independent is directly based on a real historical university in the region, and like several other universities, student government at the time is one of the known examples of small-scale attempts at liquid democracy.

**More overtly/standardly romantic than anything they have done on-screen at any earlier point.

 

The complexity of this story is refreshing, at least if you're Abrogail Thrune.  In some ways, albeit not other ways, this is very much the sort of romance novel that she wanted to read, as an intelligent young girl.  As Infernal Majestrix, she reluctantly decided that she simply did not have enough +6 Intelligence headbands in her kingdom to crown the best of romance novel writers with one, which is what it would take to produce this.  The dense action and concise description is pleasing to her; most romance novels in other kingdoms are far more long-winded than this, to describe far less.  Even in Cheliax she has not managed by whip and fire alone to teach authors not to be such enormous windbags.

That the male protagonist from the Galt-analogue of Vratsa conquers a woman from the more Lawful Evil land of Pernik is wholly unacceptable, of course, but this seems easy to remedy.  Abrogail scrawls down a note to have the Imperial censors switch about the national identities of the protagonists; the moral justifications that accompany the protagonists' actions can easily be shuffled about without changing the actions themselves.  The censors should try changing about the sexes as well, if they can, but she will be understanding (if not forgiving) if they cannot make that flow properly.  Oh, and put back in all the sex scenes that some insipid earlier censor had removed.

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Abrogail flips through the first book from the Global Alliance before shaking her head and setting it aside in disgust; these fools marinating in their own lack of ambition are beyond literary rescue.

The second book is far more promising: straightforward Asmodean porn, for the most part, with a new twist about people arranging for themselves the sort of body-reshaping experiments you usually see from the more unethical run of wizard.  In the novel's context of such procedures being ultimately approved by one's superiors, with whom one must plead to be allowed such reshapings, it has the proper moral that every aspect of your body as well as your soul belongs to the government that owns you.  This can be reprinted virtually verbatim.

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Of Green:

A doorstopper novel about a Committed of Truth... this Lawful Good pablum cannot be tolerated.  Abrogail reflexively stamps it with the imprint meaning that the author is to die slowly and horribly and at the end be Maledicted, before realizing that she doesn't have any idea whether that works.  Well, it could work, given the strangeness of the whole affair, and it hardly hurts to try.

After flipping through the other novels from Green, Abrogail shrugs and stamps them all with the same imprint.  If it doesn't cost her own government torturer-time and a fourth-circle cleric spell slot to send these authors to Hell, she sees no reason why she shouldn't try to get them all.

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Of the Aevylmarch:

The setting is fascinating, and you wouldn't need to change much of the action to have this Lawful Good protagonist be slowly seduced out of his Good, but not his Law, by this Chaotic Evil heroine, who could in turn be slowly seduced out of her Chaos.  Really, failing to set up this pleasingly symmetrical meeting at Lawful Evil, in which both main characters have something to learn over the course of the story, just seems like a literary oversight in the first place!  Her censors and editors will repair this almost-great novel, or else regret their inadequacy.

That the author is pleading to have nobody else publish a modified version of the work, referring to an unsigned contract they have no possible way of enforcing upon Cheliax, makes it only more inevitable that Abrogail issues the order she does.

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Of Malachitin:

These books would lead impressionable young girls astray into Chaos.  Abrogail will keep them for her own reading.

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Most of Tree is not producing much in the way of romance novels, or for that matter romance, but on a planet of a billion people there are bound to be a few outliers. Cheliax may be confused by the fact that the stories almost never bring up the sexes of the characters in question unless it actually comes up in a plot-relevant way.

The first book is a historical-fiction novel set in the city state of Tashi, with a tech level approximately concordant with the tech level a few centuries in Golarion's past, save that there is no mention of magic. (An appendix at the end of the novel discusses which parts of it are known to have happened vs. theoretically consistent with known information but with no way of knowing if they actually happened vs. possibly true but with multiple competing theories for what actually happened; the non-existence of magic is not even mentioned.) Tashi's government officially operates by a council of twelve selected by sortition, chosen every four months among practitioners of certain skilled traits, with the goal of making political assassinations non-viable, and is consequently slow and inefficient -- it seems that the city-state has no form of communication with other polities more efficient than physically bringing a letter to another city. One of the citizens of the city (which for some reason has no formal nobility, a fact which does not appear to be true of other polities referenced), a banker, has managed to "sponsor" a significant fraction of the city to encourage them to support cir policies if chosen to be part of the Council; ce has mostly managed to avoid being assassinated, which is presented as a live threat, by avoiding pursuing anything especially controversial and by having substantial influence over a neighboring polity, which might otherwise invade Tashi. The story is narrated from the perspective of the eldest child of an important civil servant within the city. Sir parent arranges a ?marriage? between sem and one of the banker's children, the theory being that se can spy on the family and figure out if the banker has anything planned that might destabilize the city. Se is initially theoretically prepared to work against the banker and cir child, and regularly reports back to sir parent, but over time se starts to feel closer to sir spouse, rather than solely viewing mem as a tool to be used to obtain politically relevant information. The two of them attempt to conceive a child, having an extremely awkward and miserable sex scene where both of them are clearly forcing themselves to be there, but eventually manage to do so. Simultaneously, the narrator discovers that the banker is considering pivoting to a push towards much greater control in the city; having come to care at least a little about sir spouse's family, se points out that this will likely lead to someone deciding to assassinate cem, at which point the banker reveals that ce is suffering from a progressive illness and will likely be dead within the next couple of years, and has decided that dying a little earlier is worth it if ce can use this to do more good for cir city. The narrator wrestles with what to do, but ultimately decides to pass this along to sir parent, expecting them to be reasonable about it. Sir parent is instead furious about the plans in question and vows to stop them from coming about, no matter what it takes. Se thinks se ought to warn sir spouse, but can't bring semself to do it. While attending a festival with sir spouse and child, as well as the banker and various other members of cir family, the group of them are targeted by an assassination attempt. One of the assassins seemingly expects the narrator to be on their side, and specifically to help them kill sir spouse, but se refuses, even at the risk of sir life. Se escapes with sir spouse and child, but the banker is mortally wounded. As ce lies dying in front of them, se confesses sir limited involvement, and the banker informs sem that although ce is definitely upset about the betrayal the most important thing is that the city be alright. Se discusses things with sir spouse, and they ultimately conclude that the policy the banker was pursuing before sir death was a good one, and that they will continue to use mir family's influence to support it even if it costs them their lives.

The second book is set in a world with technology far outstripping Golarion; there is still no magic, at least not that is referred to as such, but technologies that allow for instantaneous long-distance communication, for travel far faster than the fastest boats (though still slower than a Teleport spell), for fetuses to develop in a machine rather than a womb, and so on are treated as normal and commonplace. The protagonist, a sixteen-year-old, decides to stop taking something called "puberty blockers," a decision which the other characters and the narrative treat as predictably likely to cause vem suffering, but potentially worth it on net for some people. Ve discovers, to vir surprise, that ve actually experiences strong desire to have sex with specific people ve knows, and also in general; this seems to be viewed as moderately unusual within vir society. Ve tries to self-modify to not, fails, and spends a while angsting about how it sucks to have randomly wound up being an "allosexual." None of vir friends is similarly interested in vem, and ve grows increasingly miserable about both the fact that it feels like no one ve's close to understands what ve's going through, and the fact that ve would like to have sex but doesn't know anyone who particularly wants to have sex with vem. Eventually, while leaving a LARPing event, ve overhears another participant discussing the theory that the historical figure iir character was based on was, in reality, allosexual, in a way that makes it clear that ie is also allosexual. Ve approaches iem, and they realize that they actually have several interests in common, any of which could potentially form the nucleus for a grouphouse of people with similar interests. The two of them have sex (the focus of the sex scene is almost entirely on their internal experiences rather than anything that is happening physically), and the protagonist is overwhelmingly relieved that ve isn't just doomed to be perpetually miserable. The two of them get to know each other better over the course of additional LARPing events, trips to museums, and other such social activities, and are suggested to be having more sex, although most of it is offscreen. The story ends exactly a year after it began, with the protagonist and vir lover being approached by a younger student who has just discovered ye is allosexual and is looking for advice.

The third book appears to be set in the same setting as the second, or at least it could be, there's nothing to explicitly contradict it. The story centers around two young adults who live together (this is treated as an unusually low number of people to live together). The story alternates between chapters from each of their perspectives. One of the two adults is an allosexual working as a costume designer; the other has severe executive function issues and largely stays at home and interacts with some sort of ... game? Except instead of involving a board or cards or anything, it involves instantaneously communicating something with hundreds of other people? It isn't really explained what fe's doing so it might be pretty difficult to figure that out! Regardless, the costume designer seems to be heavily supporting fem in using fir society's ... guaranteed charity? But done a little differently from Golarion, like if Sarenrae's church gave people vouchers that could be exchanged for food from any merchant and compensated the merchants ... to acquire food and shelter and healthcare and so on. In exchange, fe regularly has sex with the costume designer. The costume designer seems to think that fe is happy with this arrangement, since fe's always said fe's fine with having sex with rem, but fe is actually miserable and dreads it every time. This comes to a head when fe has a nervous breakdown in the middle of sex; rather than being sympathetic or understanding, the costume designer is upset with fem, yells at fem for causing rem to have a incorrect beliefs about the world, and storms out of their apartment into the city, wearing nothing but pajamas, in the middle of winter, in a cold climate. Re proceeds to have a breakdown over the possibility that re might have accidentally harmed rir partner, and also over the fact that ... finding anyone else to have sex with is going to be moderately inconvenient because most people their age have already sorted into grouphouses? This part might be hard to understand without more context ... while also slowly suffering from symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite. The story ends with the implication that re froze to death in the snow before anyone noticed re was there, and that rir partner may or may not manage to actually survive on fir own.

The fourth and final book is set in a world that has what it refers to as 'magic,' albeit very different from anything Golarion would call magic, with a tech level lower than that of the first book. In this world, magic is performed in groups of three; two "mages" working in concert must sacrifice a living human in order to provide the necessary amount of energy, which can then be used to alter the size of various objects. The story opens with two mages in the capital city of a country working together to sacrifice willing elderly volunteers to grow an additional layer of walls to protect against an invading army, which believes the country is overusing this form of magic and should be forcibly prevented from doing so. The army is unwilling to actually lay siege to the city, and departs. The two mages, who were chosen separately as the two most talented mages in the country, are both highly impressed with each other's technical skill at magic, and decide to collaborate on research projects together. (Research is largely possible to do without requiring human sacrifice.) The government of the city realizes that a famine is likely, and approaches them to ask them to increase the city's grain supply by enlarging the grain. This, too, initially uses willing volunteers, some of them younger than the previous set, then criminals that have been condemned to death once the volunteers have run out.  Meanwhile, the two mages have become infatuated with each other, in what they both parse as friendship but to an outside eye from a society with the concept clearly also involves feelings of romantic attraction, though strangely they seem to be basically uninterested in having sex with each other. The two of them do some calculations, determine that it's likely the famine will continue the next year, and determine that it's not likely for there to be enough volunteers or condemned criminals to power their magic. They explicitly decide to conceive a child on the theory that killing an infant is less unethical than killing an adult, and their baby is born shortly before the next necessary use of magic happens. The government once again asks them to perform the ritual, which they do; somehow, they end up needing exactly enough people that their baby is the last sacrifice necessary. Despite explicitly stating they think it is less bad to kill an infant than an adult, the two of them are upset about this; the final section of the book is devoted to them researching improved agricultural techniques so that preventing a famine will not require literal human sacrifices. 

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Okay, she's pretty sure that these "Tree" people are very likely literal trees or some other very nonhumanoid species, and that these books were 'translated' out of something considerably more alien than just a foreign language.

The books are too alien to have anything recognizable as romantic merit or demerit, but Abrogail supposes, if she must consider them for publication in Cheliax, the answer is no; people running around being worried about whether they're hurting each other are not good for young girls to read about all day.  Even the third book, in which the protagonists' pathetic feelings result in equally unhappy and pathetic lives followed by pathetic deaths, doesn't redeem the extent to which a reader would be immersed in constant Lawful Good misery and the extent to which this would be unhealthy.  If Chelish girls were otherwise in danger of becoming paladins when they grow up, this 'romance novel' might talk the more sensible ones out of ever trying to be nice to each other or have consensual sex; but it is more important to produce romance novels which can help girls with more innate promise than that grow into proper cruel ambitious adults.

Now can she hand off these books to any of the wizards who will be incredibly fascinated by the hints about how to operate the universe?  The agricultural techniques in the fourth book... mostly don't seem like they'd work without a lot of additional capabilities taken for granted, that Cheliax doesn't have, but the remaining techniques seem potentially quite important?

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An attentive reader will notice that Carolingian "men" are risk-tolerant people who like to argue and can't back down from a dare and treat everything as a competition and settle disputes with mild physical scuffling, and Carolingian "women" are "risk-averse people who are aware of the concept of diplomacy and conceal their emotions and manage households and do behind-the-scenes maneuvering," with no particular reference to physical characteristics. People who don't sufficiently fit either description are referred to as "genderfails", which does in fact appear to be associated with actually failing some sort of test. Carolingia seems to think that genderfails are at least mildly despicable, but very, very sexy.

Also, everyone in these novels is fucking a lot. Most of the books include bonus, plot-optional sex scenes in the back -- in addition to the sex scenes in the main text, which contain plot or at least some kind of important character development -- with footnotes in the main text indicating the points where bonus sex scenes are available.

The first novel is set in a universe where men have emotion-based magic and women have ritual-based magic and hermaphrodite genderfails can combine the power of both and therefore rule with an iron fist, IN SPACE. The leader of a resistance cell arouses the suspicions of her feudal lord, who is charmed by her talent for subterfuge and indulges her by letting her think she's succeeding at fomenting revolution, while secretly stymieing all her efforts. The rebel loathes and fears the lord, but can't help recognizing how skillfully they wield power, and unwillingly grows to admire and desire them. The two are having sex almost from the beginning of the novel -- the lord can and does use the rebel sexually at will, and the rebel is attempting to sexually manipulate the lord -- and there are several lovingly described torture scenes when the rebel does something the lord can't quite overlook. By the end, they've settled into a strange but affectionate relationship, where the rebel eagerly betrays her comrades to the lord in return for scraps of affection, and the lord lovingly rapes and tortures her as a reward.

The second novel follows a young woman who's setting up a household with her new husband, and her new husband's brother, and her new husband's brother's wife, and her new husband's brother's wife's cousin, and her new husband's brother's wife's cousin's dog, and also a wandering troubadour who joins them halfway through the book and appears to be planning to stay indefinitely. She's very fond of her silly impulsive histrionic husband, but he's a soldier and only occasionally comes home on leave; the actual romance plot is with the husband's brother's wife. The two women initially clash over how they want to run the household, expressing this through the subtext of long ostensibly-friendly conversations about home decoration and chore schedules. Over the course of the book, they gradually work out some of their issues and begin to find their differences a powerful resource rather than an obstacle, and the subtext slowly shifts towards sexual tension. They don't actually have sex onscreen -- the climax of the book involves a successful dinner party -- and it's never clear what exactly their mostly-absent husbands know, but in the epilogue the household has six children of varying ages, and the husband's brother's wife has the only working penis in the house.

The third novel is the story of two men on opposite sides of a glorious and noble and thoroughly unrealistic sword-and-shield war over disputed territory. One is young and clumsy and ambitious; the other is older and weary but devoted and noble. They sing to each other from neighboring fortifications in between skirmishes, and risk their lives reaching rendezvous points to leave love notes, and trade longing glances in the thick of battle. The occasions where they can actually meet face-to-face are scarce and precious and full of desperate fucking in muddy foxholes. At one point they clash on the battlefield, and the younger man wounds the older, and afterwards carries him back to camp and personally nurses him back to health before releasing him in a prisoner exchange. At another, the older man puts on clothing the younger stole from the commanding officer he has a crush on, and they roleplay some very sexy illegal orders. The book ends when the two countries make peace, and the men swear eternal brotherhood before returning to their homelands.

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The antfolk still aren’t quite sure what this “romance” thing is, precisely, but these seem pretty close at least! If these aren’t to alien tastes, please send back feedback to receive more tailored media!

 

An collection including seven novels, three books of short stories, four series about the most popular alternate universes, a collection of poetry, half a dozen epistolary books, and an annotated book of music scores. The base series is about a worker, named Halru, who is taken as a war-prisoner by a rival hive as slave labor and is forced to care for their grubs. Two of her limbs are cut off, and she generally has a terrible time doing awful labor under threat of death. Her best friend, Terilu, sets off on an extremely dangerous and ill-advised quest to rescue her, which at various points includes having a riddling contest with a dragon to gain fire breathing, bargaining with a Fairy Queen to gain wings, fighting a variety of creatures, secretly training under five separate rival hives to become a master of all five styles of spearfighting, and generally becoming a really powerful and dangerous warrior. She then rescues her best friend, and they return home, only to find themselves dealing with complex social dynamics now that Halru is maimed, which means that she is lower status in Semi-Generic!Fantasy!Past world. They cuddle a lot, talk about their feelings, play around with various power dynamics, and become lifepartners.

An included note says that while slavery and treating maimed people worse is something that happened in the past, they definitely don’t do it in the modern era, because that’s horrendously unethical.
 

A slightly complicated political novel, classified as “short,” with only 70,000 words and three subplots. In this one, one of the hives is secretly preparing to wage war on both hives and framing it on the other, and is thwarted when one of the ambassadors has a crisis of faith, which is detailed in full. She defects, tells the others about the evil plans, and gets lots of cuddles with her new friends.

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The Grapeverse has a selection of romances and romance-like stories available! In general, the Grapeverse produces stories with well-polished prose whose characters come alive on the page; these five are no exception.

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First up: an epic poem about an ancient king, presented in the original with extensive annotations. Full translations are going to be legitimately tricky; it's long, it's gorgeous, and the poetic form is pretty strict and doesn't adapt well to the rhythms of other languages, but the writer keeps doing this thing where the rhyme scheme and meter highlight underlying thematic connections between different lines—anyway. The plot begins with an introductory section where the king is going around doing atrocities in a very badass ancient-legendary-figure sort of way, right up until a random peasant girl lights him on fire with her magic powers and he immediately falls madly in love and drops everything to beg her to marry him, then spends the next two-thirds of the poem gradually lightening up on the atrocities front, partly because he has now realized that peasants are people and partly because his wife keeps arguing with him and occasionally threatening to light him on fire again, which he always responds to with a confused mix of fear, adoration, and occasionally anger. The queen's power to set fire to her husband is depicted very obviously and straightforwardly, discussed in the text and the dialogue; the king's reciprocal power to have his wife executed is left completely to subtext and implication, only barely hinted at by means such as using epithets for her that emphasize her fearlessness whenever he gets angry. Accompanying notes explain that the poem is an allegory for real historical events, with the queen standing in for the entire Phoenix archetype, which did appear during that approximate historical era and did have those approximate powers and did have approximately that effect on ancient kings' tendency to oppress people although the exact mechanism was obviously very different.

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Next: a widely acclaimed example of the "porn about masochists with access to magical healing" genre, in which a [sadist who lives by themself in a castle they designed and built using magic] (this is a two-word phrase in the author's native language) gets an unexpected visitor and falls in love with them despite being sort of shaky on this whole 'human interaction' concept. Neither of them has much of a clue how to pursue a healthy relationship, but they are both highly motivated to figure it out, and they make it to the end of the book having successfully reinvented most of the basics from scratch and settling into a life together full of art and luxury and wholesome, loving, extremely gory sex. The climactic scene involves the introverted-sadist-architect breaking into tears about how much they love their partner and needing to be wrapped in blankets and snuggled until they calm down. The two of them are the only characters in the entire book, unless you count the introverted-sadist-architect's house as a third character, which you very well might given how much screentime it gets. The back of the book has a collection of author-approved fanart of the castle, added so the aliens can get a sense of the architectural styles involved that words alone would have trouble conveying.

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Thirdly: another, less well-known example of the same genre. This one follows the story of a palace scribe in an empire ruled by a selfish, sadistic, Chaotic Evil disaster of a man; she catches his attention by coincidence one day and tries to run for the hills that very evening because she expects if she meets him again she might die. He captures her, enslaves her, and does lots of graphically described awful things to her, which she enjoys much more than she expected to. He falls in love with her, charmed by her resilience, her determination, her practicality, her wicked sense of humour, her extreme masochism, and an ineffable charisma that radiates from the page; she falls in love with him right back, captivated by his power, his beauty, his sadism, his force of personality, and his surprising perceptiveness. The central tension of the story is the emperor doing more and more awful things to the scribe in an effort to push her to her limits, and the scribe cheerfully cooperating in this endeavour and then not turning out to have any. They have what by any sane standard would be a deeply unhealthy relationship, but they're both having fun. If you've read the epic poem about the Phoenix Queen, you can kind of see echoes of that dynamic in this one, except that here the scribe has no pyrokinetic abilities to threaten her imperial lover with, so the balance of power is entirely in his favour.

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Fourth, a book called Shattering Cascade, a phrase which in the original language is balanced with perfect, deliberate ambiguity between two meanings: either a cascade of shattering, like a collapsing building that keeps dragging more of itself down with the rest, or a cascade which is shattering, like a waterfall breaking apart into a million pieces.

In short, it's about a world with ubiquitous mind control and a diplomat from the anti-mind-control faction rescuing an outcast from the pro-mind-control faction and struggling to connect with them in a way that is both feasible and ethical while helping them to recover from catastrophic psychological damage.

The premise concerns a world where one hundred percent of the population has mind-control powers that take a lot of effort and attention to suppress. The effect is along the lines of hyper-charisma; if you leave it on, people you talk to will like you a lot, care about you a lot, and believe whatever you say to them. The world has therefore divided into two factions: the Beautiful, who default to leaving their powers on, train and develop them for greater effect, and wield them on purpose, sometimes to devastating effect; and the Strange, who default to suppressing their powers and take care to avoid psychologically harming each other. Beautiful society functions like well-oiled clockwork, unified, advanced, civilized, leaving a trail of broken outcasts in its wake; Strange society lurches along like a herd of cats, confused and directionless and frequently violent, poor because they're spending so much of their collective effort on just not hurting each other.

The first chapter opens with a newly hired junior Strange ambassador entering for the first time the Beautiful city where they'll soon be working. They're wearing a full-body-concealing cloak and veil, as Strangers do to help block their powers and protect them from the powers of others, but at their first sight of the sparkling-clean streets and breathtaking architecture they lift their veil for a better look. Everything is so clean and pretty, and they're simultaneously enchanted by the beauty and revolted by how smoothly unanimous and flawless it all seems to be.

On their way to the embassy, they see a person writhing in the middle of the street, bawling uncontrollably, beautiful clothes all torn and scuffed and stained, moving completely out of sync with the eerily choreographed society around them, being totally ignored by all the Beauties present. The junior ambassador is shocked; the senior ambassador pulls them aside to quietly explain that this is normal in Beautiful cities and it's rude to make a fuss, implying but not outright stating that the usual solution to cases like this is to ignore them until they die. The junior ambassador (who is lowkey Phoenix-coded, to a well-Grape-versed reader) is having none of this, and demands to rescue the person. The senior ambassador, tiredly and reluctantly, admits that it's permissible in Beautiful society to take broken people like that home and keep them as pets, but cautions that if the junior ambassador is going to do this, they really can't take on more than one, and the embassy staff really can't afford to put in much time or effort towards helping, and they really must fire the junior ambassador if they spend all their time taking care of the stray instead of doing their job.

The junior ambassador is DETERMINED. The book proceeds to describe how they just barely manage to tend to their stray in their free time while struggling to keep up with their job's demanding schedule, how they marvel at the quality of Beautiful food and clothing and architecture and interior decoration but seethe internally every time they meet another Beauty who has heard about their 'pet' and has an opinion. Seemingly every Beauty in the city has an opinion and each new variant is more infuriating than the last, from condescending smiles to veiled contempt to the person who says outright that it makes sense that one useless outcast would find kinship in another. (The Beauties do tone down their powers an amount in conversation with the Strange ambassadors, but even a toned-down Beauty feels supernaturally convincing and alluring to a Stranger who's barely met a handful of them before in their life. Trying to maintain disagreement with so many of them in a row is pretty harrowing.)

Slowly, over the course of many chapters of this, the rescued Beauty recovers and develops a (lowkey Ondine-coded) personality. As they regain awareness of their surroundings and control of their emotions, the junior ambassador tries to convince them to tone down their power, which is getting stronger the more coherent they become; but they have no idea how to do that, and also their trauma has left them in All Fawn All The Time mode, so they keep getting the junior ambassador caught in horrible codependent emotional spirals which the junior ambassador has to break out of by sheer stubborn force of will, sometimes by pushing back with their own, laughably underdeveloped in comparison, power. (The normal Strange response to being mentally overpowered is physical violence, but the junior ambassador absolutely refuses to hit the vulnerable person they're trying so hard to help.) They feel conflicted about using their power even that much, but the only other option seems to be to abandon this person to die, so they're gonna do whatever it takes.

Halfway through the book, the junior ambassador, who has been developing unfortunate habits, accidentally uses their power in conversation with the senor ambassador; minor involuntary power usage is considered fine and on a continuum with just using language normally, but this is a pretty forceful push. They're appalled with themselves; they feel like it would've been better if they'd just stabbed their boss instead, and their boss kind of seems to agree. Things get very tense in the embassy, and after a few weeks, the junior ambassador ambiguously-quits-or-is-fired and takes their rescued Beauty home to Strange territory.

The rest of the book explores how their relationship develops as the Beauty recovers further and their Strange benefactor struggles to make ends meet and support them in a society so much poorer than the extravagantly luxurious Beautiful city that cast them out. The Stranger still struggles with the impulse to use their powers casually since they've been doing so much of it with their Beauty, and the Beauty still struggles with the concept of suppressing their powers at all, which gets to be more and more of a problem as they recover more and more. But in the end, they reach an equilibrium, with the Stranger relearning how to control themselves and managing to teach the Beauty along the way, and although Strange society still views them both with considerable suspicion and the thought of trying to go near Beautiful society terrifies them each in different ways, they carve out a life together that works for both of them, and learn how to become friends across the numerous cultural and psychological chasms that divide them.

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And lastly, the VERY DETERMINED author of a certain work of interactive fiction has figured out how to create a copy of it that will work by magic, via an interdimensional collaboration whose details are too complex for this margin to contain. It's a book that writes itself depending on the reader's choices; you interact with it by touching certain words, which appear in sparkling ink to highlight them as interactive. Some of them will change things in place, while others advance the story by proceeding to the next section. Sections can be erased and replayed by means of sparkling-inked undo arrows. There's a foreword that explains the exact mechanics.

The player's character appears wandering in a starlit desert with no memory of where they came from or how they got here. After finding and exploring a nearby ruin, you eventually stumble upon a talking statue of a beautiful winged person, and although the statue is very shy at first, eventually you can coax enough information out of them to realize that they're some sort of powerful magical being who has been horribly abused by people using them for personal gain. You, too, can horribly abuse them and use them for personal gain; or you can use them for personal gain in less gratuitously awful ways that they still pretty clearly find traumatizing; or you can try to befriend them; or you can try to befriend them but in a sex way; or you can ignore them and try to figure out a way to escape the mysterious magical ruins by yourself. The descriptions of the statue's reactions to trauma are uncompromisingly realistic; the descriptions of the statue's reactions to genuine friendship and love are heartbreakingly sweet. Playing one route does not lock you out of others except implicitly via effects on the statue's mental state and opinion of you; you can change your behaviour toward the statue at any time, and an enormous amount of effort has gone into ensuring that however you treat the statue, they react realistically according to the current path of the story and their own personality. The story has multiple possible endings, depending on your relationship with the statue and on whether you choose to escape the mysterious ruin or not, plus the implicit non-ending of simply never deciding to take an ending option; it is only possible to remove the statue from the ruins by force or with maximum trust levels, and if you do it by force the statue crumbles to dust as soon as they cross the outer wall.

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A young but talented female chemist (someone who does alchemist things but in a wizard way) is interested in her brilliant and mysterious colleague, but when she asks him out he swears her to secrecy and confesses to being a vampire, ageless but capable of surviving only by drinking human blood. He is unwilling to let himself get close to her while she is mortal, but refuses to turn her into a vampire for fear that the thirst will drive her to murder, as it once did to him, and because there aren't enough blood banks to support a large population of vampires stealing from them in secret. She accepts his self-imposed isolation, but declares a quest to create a synthetic blood substitute. She spends ten years researching in secret from everyone except the vampire (ten years in which they do experiments together and move from colleagues to friends to best friends as the vampire admits it's better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all). The project eventually succeeds. They kiss, he turns her into a vampire, they reveal their existence to the world and start making everyone immortal and have an extremely fancy wedding with elaborate descriptions of outfits and décor.

Someone has gone through and hastily replaced what was clearly a lot of detailed chemistry descriptions with ridiculous technobabble that doesn't cohere into any kind of usable scientific information. The "fact-checked by chemistry professor Cort Andri-Mara of Whiteharbor University" blurb in the front matter has also been crossed out and a big "CENSORED" graphic printed on top of it.

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From Homerealm, a space-cyberpunk novel trilogy about the industrial espionage between two large space-based corporations. It is quickly established in the first scene that all of humanity has uploaded, and enjoy spectacular luxury in a post-livingonplanets future. Some implausible technobabble is introduced to justify the mathematically-unbreakable self-sovereignty of every upload, and the main consequence of that these novels are exploring: how you replace torture in a world where everyone is immortal, indestructible, and doesn't feel pain.

(The narrative seems to go out of its way to belabor that physical pain or harm is now impossible to impose, but also that it is only pain, among sensory experiences, that one is protected from this way: one might get the impression that the author was in love with the concept of masochism but also feels strongly that pain is a very unsexy thing.)

An ensemble cast of two teams of spy-hackers then proceed to try to keep their company ahead of the other in the race toward inventing new technologies and securing new resources, mostly through means involving breaking in to key individuals' virualities to trace their emulator and then kidnapping them to sex dungeons where the author takes advantage of the simulated environment to describe fantastically elaborate, implausibly artistic, and physically impossible forms of bondage, which serve as a backdrop to exquisitely pornographic interrogations that mix skilled orgasm-control and other dominant techniques with mind-games to break the wills of the "victims" and get the information they're looking for... and in one case get a new submissive-pet-relationship. In none of these scenes do the depicted people appear to have much if any reaction to being forced into a sexual situation; it is clearly shown that the sexual "torture" is, if not fun, then exciting, for everyone involved, as a background fact that no one questions.

The climax of the first book is the defection of one spy-hacker from one company to another, which was a purposeful scheme that results in the two spy-hacker teams finding out about each other's existence. The climax of the middle book is the aforementioned new-submissive-relationship in which an important character, in fact the same character who, it is now revealed, falsely defected, falls for her interrogator for real this time... after resisting longer than anyone else and nearly succeeding in subverting her new dom as well, but in the end deciding to give up the information willingly for the sake of the new relationship, which is depicted as entirely genuine. The climax of the last book is a sort of BDSM battle-royale in which the two spy-hacker teams go head to head, each capture half of the other team, and go all out to break each other. The book ends with the two teams in uneasy truce, comparing all of their information and realizing that they can sell the critical McGuffin-secret to both companies and buy their own (virtual) universe with the proceeds. (The subtextual assumption being that of course even high-action hacker-spies would want to retire and spend the rest of eternity worldbuilding.)

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Carolingian An attentive reader will notice that Carolingian "men" are risk-tolerant people who like to argue and can't back down from a dare and treat everything as a competition and settle disputes with mild physical scuffling, and Carolingian "women" are "risk-averse people who are aware of the concept of diplomacy and conceal their emotions and manage households and do behind-the-scenes maneuvering," with no particular reference to physical characteristics. People who don't sufficiently fit either description are referred to as "genderfails", which does in fact appear to be associated with actually failing some sort of test. Carolingia seems to think that genderfails are at least mildly despicable, but very, very sexy.

Also, everyone in these novels is fucking a lot. Most of the books include bonus, plot-optional sex scenes in the back -- in addition to the sex scenes in the main text, which contain plot or at least some kind of important character development -- with footnotes in the main text indicating the points where bonus sex scenes are available.

The first novel is set in a universe where men have emotion-based magic and women have ritual-based magic and hermaphrodite genderfails can combine the power of both and therefore rule with an iron fist, IN SPACE. The leader of a resistance cell arouses the suspicions of her feudal lord, who is charmed by her talent for subterfuge and indulges her by letting her think she's succeeding at fomenting revolution, while secretly stymieing all her efforts. The rebel loathes and fears the lord, but can't help recognizing how skillfully they wield power, and unwillingly grows to admire and desire them. The two are having sex almost from the beginning of the novel -- the lord can and does use the rebel sexually at will, and the rebel is attempting to sexually manipulate the lord -- and there are several lovingly described torture scenes when the rebel does something the lord can't quite overlook. By the end, they've settled into a strange but affectionate relationship, where the rebel eagerly betrays her comrades to the lord in return for scraps of affection, and the lord lovingly rapes and tortures her as a reward.

The second novel follows a young woman who's setting up a household with her new husband, and her new husband's brother, and her new husband's brother's wife, and her new husband's brother's wife's cousin, and her new husband's brother's wife's cousin's dog, and also a wandering troubadour who joins them halfway through the book and appears to be planning to stay indefinitely. She's very fond of her silly impulsive histrionic husband, but he's a soldier and only occasionally comes home on leave; the actual romance plot is with the husband's brother's wife. The two women initially clash over how they want to run the household, expressing this through the subtext of long ostensibly-friendly conversations about home decoration and chore schedules. Over the course of the book, they gradually work out some of their issues and begin to find their differences a powerful resource rather than an obstacle, and the subtext slowly shifts towards sexual tension. They don't actually have sex onscreen -- the climax of the book involves a successful dinner party -- and it's never clear what exactly their mostly-absent husbands know, but in the epilogue the household has six children of varying ages, and the husband's brother's wife has the only working penis in the house.

The third novel is the story of two men on opposite sides of a glorious and noble and thoroughly unrealistic sword-and-shield war over disputed territory. One is young and clumsy and ambitious; the other is older and weary but devoted and noble. They sing to each other from neighboring fortifications in between skirmishes, and risk their lives reaching rendezvous points to leave love notes, and trade longing glances in the thick of battle. The occasions where they can actually meet face-to-face are scarce and precious and full of desperate fucking in muddy foxholes. At one point they clash on the battlefield, and the younger man wounds the older, and afterwards carries him back to camp and personally nurses him back to health before releasing him in a prisoner exchange. At another, the older man puts on clothing the younger stole from the commanding officer he has a crush on, and they roleplay some very sexy illegal orders. The book ends when the two countries make peace, and the men swear eternal brotherhood before returning to their homelands.

 

With Abrogail now alerted to the possibility that these books were only 'translated' into a setting where the characters have the usual humanoid number of arms and legs, she doesn't fail to note that this story is probably also about aliens.  The second and third Carolingian books have nothing of interest and are not even of Lawfulness let alone Evil.  Abrogail stamps them with her most expensive means of annoyance, where you hunt down the author if they try to flee, Maledict them, and pay Hell extra to have them sent down to a lower layer; why not, if she doesn't actually have to pay for it.

The first book... appears to be deliberately written to subvert Asmodeans; the overt story is one of a very proper romance between ambitious master and ambitious reluctant slave, on the surface of things, with authority finally triumphant.  But this protagonist and deuteragonist care way too much about each other and not just in an obsessive, possessive, controlling way.  This book does not show a healthy Asmodean relationship regardless of how much torture and rape goes on inside it.  This book is Problematic.  This book comes from an alternate universe where it's fine for Asmodeans to really care about each other.  This book is disturbing.  Who writes this?

Abrogail reaches out for her worst stamp, slightly regretting that she's never put in the effort to make a new stamp for how much to hurt authors if you have an unlimited budget you don't actually have to pay for, and is disgruntled when the book suddenly vanishes from her grasp.

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...somebody appears to have left a weird book underneath the pillow of her dorm bed in Ostenso wizard academy.

Sure, Pilar will read that.

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Antfolk

The antfolk still aren’t quite sure what this “romance” thing is, precisely, but these seem pretty close at least! If these aren’t to alien tastes, please send back feedback to receive more tailored media!

An collection including seven novels, three books of short stories, four series about the most popular alternate universes, a collection of poetry, half a dozen epistolary books, and an annotated book of music scores. The base series is about a worker, named Halru, who is taken as a war-prisoner by a rival hive as slave labor and is forced to care for their grubs. Two of her limbs are cut off, and she generally has a terrible time doing awful labor under threat of death. Her best friend, Terilu, sets off on an extremely dangerous and ill-advised quest to rescue her, which at various points includes having a riddling contest with a dragon to gain fire breathing, bargaining with a Fairy Queen to gain wings, fighting a variety of creatures, secretly training under five separate rival hives to become a master of all five styles of spearfighting, and generally becoming a really powerful and dangerous warrior. She then rescues her best friend, and they return home, only to find themselves dealing with complex social dynamics now that Halru is maimed, which means that she is lower status in Semi-Generic!Fantasy!Past world. They cuddle a lot, talk about their feelings, play around with various power dynamics, and become lifepartners.

An included note says that while slavery and treating maimed people worse is something that happened in the past, they definitely don’t do it in the modern era, because that’s horrendously unethical.

A slightly complicated political novel, classified as “short,” with only 70,000 words and three subplots. In this one, one of the hives is secretly preparing to wage war on both hives and framing it on the other, and is thwarted when one of the ambassadors has a crisis of faith, which is detailed in full. She defects, tells the others about the evil plans, and gets lots of cuddles with her new friends.

 

And now that Abrogail has figured it out, the 'translators' are no longer trying to make all the books overtly be about humans!  Instead they're about insects!  Very Lawful Good insects.  Abrogail is not really clear on what she's even supposed to be reviewing here.  She reaches for her slightly-short-of-max punishment stamp - she will reserve maximum punishment, in the future, for deliberate attempts to subvert Asmodeans - and then hesitates.  They did say to send feedback to receive more tailored media, and possibly that is an offer in good faith or at least interesting faith.

Abrogail writes up her feedback!  These ants are very Lawful, which is good, but they care about each other, which is Good and therefore bad.  The goal of romance novels is to train young women in appropriate thinking about matters like seduction, cruelty, how to use the pathetic emotions of others against them, to turn unhealthy love to healthy possessiveness, obsessiveness, pride, and to, like any Imperium-approved fiction, train also the ways of ambition, obedience, intelligence, acceptance of suffering.

Abrogail likes the density of action, the complexity, the concision, these would all be good hooks for young ladies and get them to exercise their intelligence.  The books are just entirely not on theme!  They want 'Lawful Evil', 'Asmodean' books - maybe whatever translates these things can include an extended note enabling the Antfolk to understand that?  Abrogail has grasped by now the notable absence of alignments, gods, and afterlives from most of these books.

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Plastic Heart, A soft sci-fi where almost everyone uses various 'augments' - biological or robotic modifications of their bodies, or even cloned or fully robotic bodies. Everyone is effectively immortal barring the most terrible accidents or thorough and deliberate murder. Nonsentient robots do almost all the work, allowing people to live without working at all if they wish. People are more open sexually than in the past, the book explains as if to justify itself. The book follows an augment technician who only has a few basic augments herself. She gets her business off being one of the best, more than for stellar customer service. She often refuses 'boring' jobs and usually only works on customers with interesting problems. The mods themselves range from brain implants that prevent the bearer from lying or deceiving at all, custom eyes that display high-definition hypnotic patterns, RADAR and jamming equipment stored in a low-profile forearm hollow, all sorts of physical enhancement from muscle to reflexes to armor, and lots and lots of different configurations of extra limbs. Tails, animal ears, private parts, and tentacles are the most popular. There's a lot of sex - one scene at least with most 'clients' and every interestingly exotic augment, usually justified as 'testing' and often discovering lingering issues that need to be fixed, like the new skin feeling weird or tentacle control spasming out. One repeat customer keeps adding and removing more and more exotic mods, changing genders at whim, and eagerly explaining the experiences that are only possible when you have extra senses and extra limbs. As the two fuck after each augment session they follow a cute sexfriends-to-romanticpartners path with the augment tech blushing and nervous for the first time in her life.

The notion of using maliciously modified brain implants to get oneself a slave seems to have simply not occurred to the author.

There's a surprising amount of alien technical detail in there. Probably not enough to build a 'RADAR' outright but enough to deduce that it involves using light to detect far away things. An appendix talks about how most of this isn't possible yet but it's not IMpossible either.

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Grapeverse appears on its surface to be about humans, or rather sorcerers, even to close inspection, but...

book 1, ancient king and girl who lights him on fire The Grapeverse has a selection of romances and romance-like stories available! In general, the Grapeverse produces stories with well-polished prose whose characters come alive on the page; these five are no exception.

First up: an epic poem about an ancient king, presented in the original with extensive annotations. Full translations are going to be legitimately tricky; it's long, it's gorgeous, and the poetic form is pretty strict and doesn't adapt well to the rhythms of other languages, but the writer keeps doing this thing where the rhyme scheme and meter highlight underlying thematic connections between different lines—anyway. The plot begins with an introductory section where the king is going around doing atrocities in a very badass ancient-legendary-figure sort of way, right up until a random peasant girl lights him on fire with her magic powers and he immediately falls madly in love and drops everything to beg her to marry him, then spends the next two-thirds of the poem gradually lightening up on the atrocities front, partly because he has now realized that peasants are people and partly because his wife keeps arguing with him and occasionally threatening to light him on fire again, which he always responds to with a confused mix of fear, adoration, and occasionally anger. The queen's power to set fire to her husband is depicted very obviously and straightforwardly, discussed in the text and the dialogue; the king's reciprocal power to have his wife executed is left completely to subtext and implication, only barely hinted at by means such as using epithets for her that emphasize her fearlessness whenever he gets angry. Accompanying notes explain that the poem is an allegory for real historical events, with the queen standing in for the entire Phoenix archetype, which did appear during that approximate historical era and did have those approximate powers and did have approximately that effect on ancient kings' tendency to oppress people although the exact mechanism was obviously very different.

 

Why is the sorceress who lights people on fire when they disobey her, who's manipulative enough to keep a pathetic man in an inspiringly romantic state of mind, trying to corrupt the evil King to goodness??  This story makes no sense!!  This is like somebody took a real romance novel and took the roles and powers and behaviors and scrambled them up randomly!!!  Is somebody trying to taunt Abrogail?  This could have been such a good story!

Abrogail stamps the book for maximum punishment, and then sends it off to the censors with a note that she wants somebody to unscramble these pieces and put them back in a proper Asmodean order.  It's possible you could cause this story to make sense just by having the protagonist successfully corrupting the King to greater instead of lesser Evil, and with her finally taking the throne at the end of her successful manipulation plan.

 

book 2, sadist with an unexpected visitor figuring out romance Next: a widely acclaimed example of the "porn about masochists with access to magical healing" genre, in which a [sadist who lives by themself in a castle they designed and built using magic] (this is a two-word phrase in the author's native language) gets an unexpected visitor and falls in love with them despite being sort of shaky on this whole 'human interaction' concept. Neither of them has much of a clue how to pursue a healthy relationship, but they are both highly motivated to figure it out, and they make it to the end of the book having successfully reinvented most of the basics from scratch and settling into a life together full of art and luxury and wholesome, loving, extremely gory sex. The climactic scene involves the introverted-sadist-architect breaking into tears about how much they love their partner and needing to be wrapped in blankets and snuggled until they calm down. The two of them are the only characters in the entire book, unless you count the introverted-sadist-architect's house as a third character, which you very well might given how much screentime it gets. The back of the book has a collection of author-approved fanart of the castle, added so the aliens can get a sense of the architectural styles involved that words alone would have trouble conveying.

 

Another horrifically Problematic book sending all the wrong messages about how people should torture their partners during sex!  At least the subversion attempt here is hardly hidden at all.  Abrogail reaches for her max-punishment stamp and is less surprised, though still surprised, when the book vanishes as she reaches for it - probably to wherever the last one went.

 

Palace scribe in power of emperor Thirdly: another, less well-known example of the same genre. This one follows the story of a palace scribe in an empire ruled by a selfish, sadistic, Chaotic Evil disaster of a man; she catches his attention by coincidence one day and tries to run for the hills that very evening because she expects if she meets him again she might die. He captures her, enslaves her, and does lots of graphically described awful things to her, which she enjoys much more than she expected to. He falls in love with her, charmed by her resilience, her determination, her practicality, her wicked sense of humour, her extreme masochism, and an ineffable charisma that radiates from the page; she falls in love with him right back, captivated by his power, his beauty, his sadism, his force of personality, and his surprising perceptiveness. The central tension of the story is the emperor doing more and more awful things to the scribe in an effort to push her to her limits, and the scribe cheerfully cooperating in this endeavour and then not turning out to have any. They have what by any sane standard would be a deeply unhealthy relationship, but they're both having fun. If you've read the epic poem about the Phoenix Queen, you can kind of see echoes of that dynamic in this one, except that here the scribe has no pyrokinetic abilities to threaten her imperial lover with, so the balance of power is entirely in his favour.

 

RRRrrrrrgh this book is so close to being a genuine masterpiece!  Censors, see if you can rewrite this to have the scribe be biding her time, not be attached in quite this way to the Emperor, and have her take over the Empire in the end and convert it to proper Lawful Evil while keeping the former Emperor as a pet.

Author:  Goes to a high-quality prison where they will be let out and richly rewarded if they learn to write good books within ten years, and will otherwise meet a very sad end after that decade.

 

[original also spoilered] In short, it's about a world with ubiquitous mind control and a diplomat from the anti-mind-control faction rescuing an outcast from the pro-mind-control faction and struggling to connect with them in a way that is both feasible and ethical while helping them to recover from catastrophic psychological damage.

The premise concerns a world where one hundred percent of the population has mind-control powers that take a lot of effort and attention to suppress. The effect is along the lines of hyper-charisma; if you leave it on, people you talk to will like you a lot, care about you a lot, and believe whatever you say to them. The world has therefore divided into two factions: the Beautiful, who default to leaving their powers on, train and develop them for greater effect, and wield them on purpose, sometimes to devastating effect; and the Strange, who default to suppressing their powers and take care to avoid psychologically harming each other. Beautiful society functions like well-oiled clockwork, unified, advanced, civilized, leaving a trail of broken outcasts in its wake; Strange society lurches along like a herd of cats, confused and directionless and frequently violent, poor because they're spending so much of their collective effort on just not hurting each other.

The first chapter opens with a newly hired junior Strange ambassador entering for the first time the Beautiful city where they'll soon be working. They're wearing a full-body-concealing cloak and veil, as Strangers do to help block their powers and protect them from the powers of others, but at their first sight of the sparkling-clean streets and breathtaking architecture they lift their veil for a better look. Everything is so clean and pretty, and they're simultaneously enchanted by the beauty and revolted by how smoothly unanimous and flawless it all seems to be.

On their way to the embassy, they see a person writhing in the middle of the street, bawling uncontrollably, beautiful clothes all torn and scuffed and stained, moving completely out of sync with the eerily choreographed society around them, being totally ignored by all the Beauties present. The junior ambassador is shocked; the senior ambassador pulls them aside to quietly explain that this is normal in Beautiful cities and it's rude to make a fuss, implying but not outright stating that the usual solution to cases like this is to ignore them until they die. The junior ambassador (who is lowkey Phoenix-coded, to a well-Grape-versed reader) is having none of this, and demands to rescue the person. The senior ambassador, tiredly and reluctantly, admits that it's permissible in Beautiful society to take broken people like that home and keep them as pets, but cautions that if the junior ambassador is going to do this, they really can't take on more than one, and the embassy staff really can't afford to put in much time or effort towards helping, and they really must fire the junior ambassador if they spend all their time taking care of the stray instead of doing their job.

The junior ambassador is DETERMINED. The book proceeds to describe how they just barely manage to tend to their stray in their free time while struggling to keep up with their job's demanding schedule, how they marvel at the quality of Beautiful food and clothing and architecture and interior decoration but seethe internally every time they meet another Beauty who has heard about their 'pet' and has an opinion. Seemingly every Beauty in the city has an opinion and each new variant is more infuriating than the last, from condescending smiles to veiled contempt to the person who says outright that it makes sense that one useless outcast would find kinship in another. (The Beauties do tone down their powers an amount in conversation with the Strange ambassadors, but even a toned-down Beauty feels supernaturally convincing and alluring to a Stranger who's barely met a handful of them before in their life. Trying to maintain disagreement with so many of them in a row is pretty harrowing.)

Slowly, over the course of many chapters of this, the rescued Beauty recovers and develops a (lowkey Ondine-coded) personality. As they regain awareness of their surroundings and control of their emotions, the junior ambassador tries to convince them to tone down their power, which is getting stronger the more coherent they become; but they have no idea how to do that, and also their trauma has left them in All Fawn All The Time mode, so they keep getting the junior ambassador caught in horrible codependent emotional spirals which the junior ambassador has to break out of by sheer stubborn force of will, sometimes by pushing back with their own, laughably underdeveloped in comparison, power. (The normal Strange response to being mentally overpowered is physical violence, but the junior ambassador absolutely refuses to hit the vulnerable person they're trying so hard to help.) They feel conflicted about using their power even that much, but the only other option seems to be to abandon this person to die, so they're gonna do whatever it takes.

Halfway through the book, the junior ambassador, who has been developing unfortunate habits, accidentally uses their power in conversation with the senor ambassador; minor involuntary power usage is considered fine and on a continuum with just using language normally, but this is a pretty forceful push. They're appalled with themselves; they feel like it would've been better if they'd just stabbed their boss instead, and their boss kind of seems to agree. Things get very tense in the embassy, and after a few weeks, the junior ambassador ambiguously-quits-or-is-fired and takes their rescued Beauty home to Strange territory.

The rest of the book explores how their relationship develops as the Beauty recovers further and their Strange benefactor struggles to make ends meet and support them in a society so much poorer than the extravagantly luxurious Beautiful city that cast them out. The Stranger still struggles with the impulse to use their powers casually since they've been doing so much of it with their Beauty, and the Beauty still struggles with the concept of suppressing their powers at all, which gets to be more and more of a problem as they recover more and more. But in the end, they reach an equilibrium, with the Stranger relearning how to control themselves and managing to teach the Beauty along the way, and although Strange society still views them both with considerable suspicion and the thought of trying to go near Beautiful society terrifies them each in different ways, they carve out a life together that works for both of them, and learn how to become friends across the numerous cultural and psychological chasms that divide them.

 

Abrogail is so torn about this book!!  It has so many good lessons!  It has so many bad lessons!  It's so well-written!  It reads like somebody took a great book and scrambled all the themes so that they wouldn't make sense any more or have any central message!

Abrogail marks it as acceptable to read for clerics of Asmodeus only.  Author goes to prison to see if they can learn to write better books.

 

Magical interactive fiction about a statue And lastly, the VERY DETERMINED author of a certain work of interactive fiction has figured out how to create a copy of it that will work by magic, via an interdimensional collaboration whose details are too complex for this margin to contain. It's a book that writes itself depending on the reader's choices; you interact with it by touching certain words, which appear in sparkling ink to highlight them as interactive. Some of them will change things in place, while others advance the story by proceeding to the next section. Sections can be erased and replayed by means of sparkling-inked undo arrows. There's a foreword that explains the exact mechanics.

The player's character appears wandering in a starlit desert with no memory of where they came from or how they got here. After finding and exploring a nearby ruin, you eventually stumble upon a talking statue of a beautiful winged person, and although the statue is very shy at first, eventually you can coax enough information out of them to realize that they're some sort of powerful magical being who has been horribly abused by people using them for personal gain. You, too, can horribly abuse them and use them for personal gain; or you can use them for personal gain in less gratuitously awful ways that they still pretty clearly find traumatizing; or you can try to befriend them; or you can try to befriend them but in a sex way; or you can ignore them and try to figure out a way to escape the mysterious magical ruins by yourself. The descriptions of the statue's reactions to trauma are uncompromisingly realistic; the descriptions of the statue's reactions to genuine friendship and love are heartbreakingly sweet. Playing one route does not lock you out of others except implicitly via effects on the statue's mental state and opinion of you; you can change your behaviour toward the statue at any time, and an enormous amount of effort has gone into ensuring that however you treat the statue, they react realistically according to the current path of the story and their own personality. The story has multiple possible endings, depending on your relationship with the statue and on whether you choose to escape the mysterious ruin or not, plus the implicit non-ending of simply never deciding to take an ending option; it is only possible to remove the statue from the ruins by force or with maximum trust levels, and if you do it by force the statue crumbles to dust as soon as they cross the outer wall.

 

Abrogail plays with this for a while, seeing how far she can lead on the statue with hope and apparent love before betraying it at the exact optimal moment to produce maximal psychological damage.  A short while later, it turns out that somehow Abrogail has misplaced several hours and -

She's keeping this one.

She will share it with a few very high-performing minions of hers as a rare and marvelous reward.  It doesn't appear to be duplicable anyhow.

Author receives:  The temporary rank of para-Baronet, with accompanying stipend of wealth and luxury, which will vanish if they cannot produce another, better work than this one within three years.

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Firstplanet: Chemist & Vampire A young but talented female chemist (someone who does alchemist things but in a wizard way) is interested in her brilliant and mysterious colleague, but when she asks him out he swears her to secrecy and confesses to being a vampire, ageless but capable of surviving only by drinking human blood. He is unwilling to let himself get close to her while she is mortal, but refuses to turn her into a vampire for fear that the thirst will drive her to murder, as it once did to him, and because there aren't enough blood banks to support a large population of vampires stealing from them in secret. She accepts his self-imposed isolation, but declares a quest to create a synthetic blood substitute. She spends ten years researching in secret from everyone except the vampire (ten years in which they do experiments together and move from colleagues to friends to best friends as the vampire admits it's better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all). The project eventually succeeds. They kiss, he turns her into a vampire, they reveal their existence to the world and start making everyone immortal and have an extremely fancy wedding with elaborate descriptions of outfits and décor.

Someone has gone through and hastily replaced what was clearly a lot of detailed chemistry descriptions with ridiculous technobabble that doesn't cohere into any kind of usable scientific information. The "fact-checked by chemistry professor Cort Andri-Mara of Whiteharbor University" blurb in the front matter has also been crossed out and a big "CENSORED" graphic printed on top of it.

 

More Lawful Good pablum.  Author dies.

Have some young, flexibly-minded, disposable apprentice alchemist check whether any of this alternate alchemical system is useful here.  Para-baronetcy if they can swing it, horrible death if they can't.

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