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Monday, December 5, 2011

Kelly Meding: META WARS SERIES

Author: Kelly Meding
Series: META WARS
Plot Type: UF with romance
Ratings: V4; S4; H2
Publisher and Titles: Pocket
        Trance (10/2011) 
        Changeling (6/2012)

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 7/20/12 to include a review of the second book in the series, Changeling. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:

        BOOK 2:  Changeling        
     As the story begins, the Meta team is renovating their new quarters, paid for from the trust fund of their newest member, Dahlia Perkins (aka Ember), who joined them at the climactic end of book 1. Dahlia has the ability to manipulate and absorb fire. The plot follows the team as they attempt to solve a string of serial killings in which the victims' insides are mysteriously and bloodlessly missing, leaving only a perfect shell of their skin. When the investigation leads to Weatherfield Research and Development, an experimental laboratory, the team soon learns that they're battling a whole new type of enemy—not a Meta or a Bane, but a Changeling—the result of a Recombinant-DNA project using donor DNA. According to their creator, the Changelings can "perfectly reflect someone's outward appearance....If they choose to, they can physically possess the body of any person they touch. Their own body becomes one with the host, but in that moment of possession....the [changeling] absorbs the  memories, knowledge, and life experience of the host, down to voice patterns and food preferences. The host doesn't die, exactly, but he's no longer an individual." (pp. 128-129)

     In the meantime, Ember has a reunion with Noah Scott, an old high school classmate, and their mutual attraction develops quickly. Betrayal soon follows, however, when Ember discovers that Noah and his brothers are literally up to their necks (and heads) in the Weatherfield experiments. The two story lines merge as team members are attacked, the brothers are blackmailed, and the love story blows hot and cold.

     This book is not nearly as strong as book 1. In fact, it has many downright silly moments. For example, the Meta team wears its slick new uniforms with tops made from woven Kevlar—tank tops that don't cover the lungs or upper chest area just above the heart. So...style over safety, I guess. Here's another: Dahlia and her mother lived in penny-pinching poverty for many years because Dahlia refused to touch the huge trust fund that her estranged millionaire father set aside for her. At one point Dahlia says that the reason her mother's cancer was discovered too late was that Mom was "too concerned with my college tuition to bother paying for a doctor's visit." (p. 100). Dahlia didn't access the money until she joined the Meta team. This just seems horrible and heartless: no money to save Mom's life because Dahlia is too proud (stubborn) to take Dad's funds, but an open pocketbook for her new Meta friends.

     Dahlia tells the story in an awkward and poorly constructed first-person voice. The author includes way too many heavily detailed scenes of Dahlia's everyday life—particularly what she eats during her many snacks and meals (and frequently vomits back up—ewww!). She is the newest Meta, with almost no training, yet the team allows her frequently to go off on her own, even though she constantly drags them into serious trouble. She has way too many TSTL moments that get her team members gravely injured. Dahlia's continuing attraction to Noah is a mystery to me. He lies to her, betrays her and her team members, nearly gets Trance killed, and doesn't apologize for any of it. She obviously stands far down the line on the list of important people in his life. How can she forgive all that he doesno matter how noble his intentions were?

     The ending resolves the conflict, but it wasn't satisfying for me. I won't go into any spoiler detail, but I will say that what happens to Dahlia and Noah in the big climactic scene left me with a very queasy feeling. The Changeling mythology was sketchy and sometimes difficult to grasp. The source of their powerful abilities (e.g., telekinesis, flame throwing, mind reading) was never fully explained. Additionally, the big surprise that Dahlia gets about her true genetic heritage just doesnt add up. Unfortunately, this book doesn't hold a candle to book 1. I'll give the next one a try, though, in the hope that the author gets back on track.

        WORLD-BUILDING        
     In this inventive world, an alternate U.S.A. is in a post-apocalyptic state fifteen years after a major supernatural war between two groups of powerful MetaHumans (aka Metas). Each Meta is born with some combination of psychic skills, shape-shifting abilities, superior strength, and/or other magical skills.

     Here is a quotation from Trance describing Meta history: “No one truly knew how the first MetaHumans received their powers. Reports of people with superhuman powers existed as far back as the American Civil War. The Pinkertons employed Metas, and some historians have argued that Billy the Kid and Harry Houdini were Metas. As our numbers grew in the early part of the 20th century, so did our notoriety. It wasn’t until our people were formally asked for help during the First World War that the divisions between us took hold and it planted the seeds of what would become the schism between the...Ranger Corps and the more nebulous “bad guy” Banes. And, while we could narrow down the start of the Rangers and Banes, we still didn’t know where Metas came from to begin with; no one seemed to know the source of it all.” (p. 113)

     For decades, the Rangers and the Banes maintained an uneasy coexistence as the Rangers attempted to keep the Banes under control. This was possible because the Banes didn’t band together, but either worked alone or in small groups. Then, 15 years ago, a man who going by the name Spector emerged with extremely powerful telepathic skills that allowed him to control—or possess—supernaturals and humans, even at a distance. Using this talent, Spector was able to unite the Banes into a huge, deadly army that far outnumbered the Rangers. Even worse, he could force his army to carry out his every order. As the two groups fought, entire cities were destroyed and many innocents died. The public began to hate all Metas—both good and bad, blaming them for every terrible thing that happened. Eventually, in a final battle that nearly destroyed New York City, the powers of both the Rangers and the Banes suddenly disappeared, but not until after all of the adult Rangers were killed. The government imprisoned the surviving powerless Banes on Manhattan island, building a huge fence around it to keep them in. They gathered up the twelve surviving Ranger children and scattered them to foster homes across the country. As the series begins, all of the Rangers and Banes suddenly get their powers back—in one big flash, just the reverse of what happened 15 years ago.

        BOOK 1:  Trance        
     As Trance opens, Teresa West (aka Trance) is fired from one of her three menial jobs in Portland, Oregon. Trance got her nickname when she was a young Ranger with the power to glamour (or trance) people into doing her will. Now, she sits in her shabby apartment wondering where she is going to get the rent money this month when she suddenly has a painful, dizzying episode and wakes to find that her skin has turned violet, her hair has violet streaks, and her eyes are blazing violet. In addition to her colorful body, she has a whole new set of powers, and they are not the same ones she had 15 years agothey're much much more powerful. For example, she can create fiery orbs of energy and lob them as weapons, and she can create an energy shield to protect herself from physical harm.

     Trance sets out for Southern California, the location of the original Rangers headquarters where she spent her childhood. On the way, she meets up with Gage McAllister (aka Cipher), the former leader of the young Ranger team and her childhood crush. Cipher’s talents lie in his super senseshearing, smell, sight. After being attacked by humans possessed by Spector, the two arrive at Meta Headquarters, where they learn that other members of their group are also assembling. Eventually, six of the original twelve make it to Headquarters (the other six are killed by Spector), and they begin to regenerate their team, with Trance as the leader this time because her skills are the most powerful. The plot follows Trance and the surviving team members as they attempt to learn Spector’s identity and track him down, all the while trying to dodge his continuing attacks. In the meantime, they must deal with the general public, who are not at all sure that they want the Metas back. As Trance and her team dig for information, they learn that (unsurprisingly) the government has been lying to them for years about many events in Meta history, including the initial causes for the Meta Wars.

     A secondary story thread follows the developing romance between Trance and Cipher as they learn to trust one another and allow a little love into their bitter hearts. All of the new Rangers have had horrific childhoods in hostile foster homes. Some of them have unique physical characteristics that make them stand out from regular humans, so they have had to endure lots of bullying from their peers.

     In addition to Trance and Cipher, the team starts out with four other members. Warning! One team doesn't make it through to the end of book 1.
Renee Duvall (aka Flex): She is super-flexible, able to bend her limbs into any shape and stretch her body out to great lengths. She has blue skin and eyes.
Marco Mendoza (aka Onyx): He is a shifter who can take the form of various animals (e.g., bird, cat, panther). He has black and brown mottled skin.
William Hill (aka Caliber): He has super strength and a huge, muscular body—a strongman.
Ethan Swift (aka Tempest): He can control the weather (e.g., create tornadoes and high winds) by manipulating the air.
      The story line is great, with lots of action and emotion. Trance is a rather whiny heroine (often the case in UF), constantly second guessing herself and blaming herself for everything that goes wrong, but she does develop some fierce powers and learns quickly how to use them to her team's advantage. Trance's main emotional problem is accepting the responsibilities of leadership without being crushed by decisions she must make that result in harm, or death, to her team members. Regarding the romantic relationship between Trance and Cipher: It wouldn't be UF if the romance wasn't filled with angst, mistrust, and doubt, and this series is no exception. Both Trance and Cipher have led lives filled with grief and trauma, and they have little reason to trust anyone, especially with their hearts. Cipher is a true new-age hero, allowing Trance to usurp his leadership position with the team and doing his best to back her up. This looks to be a good strong series, and I'm looking forward to book 2.

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