This is a pretty direct follow-on to my last review, and similarly was written before Christmas. And while it’s the same kind of thing—a small, not saving-the-world scale story in a universe I love—it’s also very different. Because “How Lovely Are Thy Branches” takes place within the main timeline of the books, but this was based on a real event, and was thus locked to a specific point in time. Which happened to be something like a decade later than the rest of the series.
It’s a commentary on how well Duane has written the series to be timeless that it’s easy to forget that, prior to the New Millennium rewrite, these were all taking place in, what, the 80s-90s? That timelessness, though, made it very surprising to realize that, in jumping up to approximately now, a lot of time had passed.
And that’s what really hit me, in reading this. It’s a glimpse at the future of these characters I love. I’ve gone from being along for the ride as they grow up to seeing them as adults, and the places they’ve made for themselves. It’s a bittersweet reunion, and it makes me want to know everything that happened in between. Kit did a doctorate? In what? Nita’s working with Irina? How did that happen? What else have I missed?
All that, and there’s also the sense that the series has grown. I remember that 90s-inflected, Don’t Say Gay treatment of Tom and Carl in the original edition of the first book. In point of fact, I remember explicit statements that they weren’t together, just coworkers who’d decided to buy a house together.
And now, here in 2020, we get to see them waking up together. Poking fun, “are you calling me old?” “I seem to remember telling you I like older men…”
This was such a short story, and it pulled on my heartstrings way more than I was expecting it to. I think this one may be slightly better for someone new to the series than the last, given that there’s less need to actually know who the characters are to understand what’s going on—although it actually has direct references to “How Lovely Are Thy Branches”—but the broader context of how this world works would still be confusing. So hey, why not pick up the box set, it’s a pretty good deal.