Oof, this one was dark, and felt like an inexorable fall into something cold and merciless, but it was so well written that I couldn’t look away. Found in The Clan Chronicles: Tales from Plexis, “A Traitor’s Heart” connects us with a woman who has been living under an assumed identity on the grey-to-black side of legality for a while, working with another two not-so-by-the-book fellows and getting by with a modicum of self-sufficiency and making her own choices. Then she realizes something’s up with one of her partners, and things spill a bit out of control, and then things go further sideways.
Learning who the woman really is, and who she has ties to—or owes her entire life and upbringing go—is a twist I won’t spoil, but I will say for readers outside of Czerneda’s shared world, the story works just find on its own: you don’t need to know all the names or players for this to be anything other than what it is: a great story about a woman, organized crime, betrayals, and trying to figure out if there’s a way out or if the only way out is through—or some other, worse, option.
Ultimately, Sumner-Smith ties up the tale in a place that left me shuddering ever-so-slightly at the choices and decisions, but feeling one-hundred-percent that this is what the character would do. This was the option. That’s a delicate balance to pull off when you’ve written a character the reader is cheering for throughout (and I was!). “A Traitor’s Heart” is a great story in and of itself, and it adds great layers to Czerneda’s already complex world-building of the Trade Pact universe.