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Thursday, July 20, 2017

NEW FANTASY DUOLOGY by Sarah Gailey: RIVER OF TEETH

Author:  Sarah Gailey
Series Title:  RIVER OF TEETH
Plot Type:  Historical Fantasy  
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—2-3   
Publisher and Titles:  Tor
          "River of Teeth" (5/2017)
          "Taste of Marrow" (9/12/2017)

                    WORLD-BUILDING                    

Map showing the dam,
the Harriet, and the Gate
     After sweating my way through Christine Feehan's latest steamy paranormal romance, Gailey's fresh and inventive novella was just the burst of freshness I needed to relax, have a few laughs, and get caught up in a weird and wonderful heist story. I highly recommend this fantasy adventure, which follows a handful of extremely quirky characters as they confront feral hippos, sleazy villains, and mutual distrust in a dangerous, but hilarious, escapade that takes place in an alternate late-19th century Wild West world. In Gailey's "Foreword" to "River of Teeth," she calls this a "hippo-cowboy romp," and that that's exactly right. 

     In this crazy world, the U.S. government has dammed the Mississippi River to create a huge marshland called the Harriet, which currently serves as home to hordes of feral hippopotami (aka hops). The government's original plan was to use the marshlands for hippo ranching in order to solve the country's meat shortage, but when hippos began escaping into the wild and all the ranches went bankrupt in the Bust of '59 (1859), the government found itself in a bad situation. South of the Mississippi/Louisiana state line, the Mississippi River is blocked by the dam and the ferocious hippos. That means that merchants cannot move goods and produce down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. The government can't just blow up the dam because then the feral hippos would spread out all through the southern waterways. Something must be done about those hippos, and Gailey has created the perfect man for the job: Winslow Houndstooth.

     One man is profiting from the hippo dilemma: Mr. Travers, who has managed to gain complete legal control over the entire Harriet and somehow finagled the "right to deny access to any nongovernmental person seeking entry via the Gate." Travers owns all of the land in the Harriet, and has built saloons, hotels, and a fleet of riverboats that offer gambling and women to his chosen clients. He puts the feral hippos to good use as his instant disposal system for card cheaters and other ne'er-do-wells.


     Although Gailey set her story in the mid-nineteenth century and has taken a few liberties with other aspects of history, her mad hippo scenario is based on actual truth (so...not fake news). Our U.S. Congress actually came very close to passing a hippo ranching bill in 1910. Even though I have a degree in American history, this particular Congressional action was never mentioned in any of my textbooks! For more information about this unbelievable-but-true story from our country's colorful past, click HERE (excellent 3-part podcast) or HERE (article from Scientific American) or HERE (interview on wired.com).

                    NOVELLA 1: "River of Teeth"                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Sarah Gailey's wildfire debut River of Teeth is a rollicking alternate history adventure that Charlie Jane Anders calls "preposterously fun." 

     In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.


     Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.


     This was a terrible plan.


     Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.


MY REVIEW: 

    Winslow Houndstooth has signed a contract with the government to rid the Harriet of all of the feral hippos in exchange for a sack containing eight thousand dollars in U.S. government gold. His scheme will allow him to inflict revenge on a long-time enemy as well as making himself and his cohorts extremely wealthy. Houndstooth has led the government to believe that he will be trapping and killing the feral hippos one at a time, but in reality, he has entirely different—and much more spectacularplans. As Houndstooth and his motley crew begin to carry out their outrageous "caper" (as his associates continually label it), he reacts each time by sighing deeply and correcting their terminology: "It's not a caper; it's an operation.This on-going joke just keeps getting funnier, as illustrated by this guffaw-inducing conversation between Houndstooth and the sheriff who is on Adelia's trail:


"Houndstooth. I believe you’re in charge of this hippo caper?” 
Houndstooth looked simultaneously pained and affronted. “It’s not a caper, Mr. Carter.” Behind him, Archie mouthed the words along with him. “It’s an operation, all aboveboard. We were hired by the federal government, I’ll have you know, and—” 
Oh, my apologies, Mr. Houndstooth. I misspoke. Of course it only makes sense that the federal government of the United States of America would hire a team of down-and-out criminals for a caper on the Harriet.” 
“It’s not a caper—” (Chapter 12)
     Houndstooth is a gay Korean-British mercenary who formerly owned his own hippo ranch. He has a lot of tragedy in his past and a passionate need for revenge against those who have wronged him. His crew of societal misfits has four members: 
Regina Archambault (aka Archie) is "a round-faced woman, her hair set in a crown of braids." She is a cross-dressing con-woman with a French accent. Archie wields a "meteor hammer [that] can take down a charging bull faster than anyone." She is Houndstooth’s long-time friend and, according to her, has saved his life 9½ times. 
Hero Shackleby is "an ink-dark, fine-boned rogue" who is an expert in demolition and poisons. Houndstooth declares that, “Hero could blow up a bank vault with a pile of hippo dung and a cup of water, and they could make it look like an accident.” Hero is always referred to as "them" or "they"never "he" or "she"because Hero considers themselves to be agender. (This use of "they" feels weird at first, but you soon get used to it.)
Cal Hotchkiss is "a hatchet-nosed man with a fussy moustache." He and Houndstooth were once partners, but years ago, their relationship went horribly wrong. Cal is on the team because he's very good with a gun, and he has valuable contacts within the Harriet that are necessary to Houndstooth's plans. Cal is the token white guy on the crew, a trait that becomes important to the plot.
Adelia Reyes is "a stone-faced woman with a tattoo coiling up her neck." She is a fugitive from the law, mostly because she makes her living as a cold-hearted, double-crossing assassin for hire. Currently, she is about seven months pregnant.
     And let's not forget the non-human team members: the hippos (Ruby, Rosa, Abigail, Betsy, Zahra, and Stasia), who play major roles in the action. Click HERE to see drawings and biographies of each valiant beast in Gailey's "Meet the Hippos" post on Tor.com. Houndstooth and his crew treat their hippos like cowboys treat their horses, with affection, respect, and meticulous care. 

     Every story needs a villain, and this one is Travers. Gailey says this about Travers: "If he had a first name, nobody seemed to know it. If he had a soul, Houndstooth had certainly never glimpsed it." Like most villains, 
Travers loves money and power and he is backed up by plenty of muscle. According to his rules, each card cheater has three chances to change his or her ways, but after the third mistake, Travers' goons throw the miscreant over the side of his fancy steamboat to become dinner for the herd of ferals that swarm around the boat.

     In just 173 pages, Gailey does a terrific job of creating this madcap universe in which hoppers ride their hippos through endless marshlands just like cowboys ride their horses across the great plains. This world feels natural and lived-in, with every character fitting perfectly into the greater scheme of things. The action moves quickly along as Houndstooth assembles his crew and carries out his scheme with more than a few dark and dangerous hitches. Houndstooth is a wonderful lead character with his tragic past, his sincere love for Rosa, his unlucky-in-love history, and his loyal friends (and lovers). 


     Although Gailey fills in a few back-story details for each character, "River of Teeth" is a novella, not a novel, so—other than the actions directly relating to the caper—we don't get to see much interplay among the characters. I have to agree with NPR reviewer Amal El-Mohtar, who says, “I wished they'd had more room to breathe as characters, more room to interact, change, develop, combust." Gailey does plan to flesh out the characters a bit more in the upcoming sequel, particularly Hero, who has the most complex back-story of all the characters. 


     Even with her limited space, Gailey has done a marvelous job constructing her tension-filled plot. The story has everything: a fascinating mythology, sly humor, deep emotion, loyal friendship, heart-breaking betrayal, budding romance, bitter vengeance, and...hippos. What more could you ask for? Author Kevin Hearne provides my favorite blurb for this book: "Man-eating hippo mayhem is my new favorite mayhem. Gailey's debut is a gift of violent, unexpected glee."

     I truly wish that Gailey had written this as a novel because it is so much fun to read that I wanted MORE! With its hippo-ranching premise, over-the-top caper (sorry...operation), unexpected treachery, and wonderfully complex characters, this book is a treasure that is not to be missed. 

     I am eagerly awaiting the second book, in which (according to Gailey in an on-line interview), Hero and Adelia "take a front seat in the narrative." Gailey is also in the final stages of publishing her first novel, Constellations of Blood and Bone, which she describes as "a contemporary-fantasy-noir set in the San Francisco Bay area."


     Click HERE to read an excerpt on this novella's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art.

                    NOVELLA 2: "Taste of Marrow"                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Sarah Gailey's hippo mayhem continues in Taste of Marrow, the sequel to rollicking adventure River of Teeth. A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the dam that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway.

     Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: "And not a soul escaped alive."


     In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they've become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.


MY REVIEW:  
When this title is released, I will upload my review ASAP. 

After publication (9/12/2017), you can click HERE to read an excerpt on this novella's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

UPDATE! Christine Feehan: SHADOW RIDERS SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing review post for Christine Feehan's SHADOW RIDER SERIES by adding a review of Shadow Reaper, the second novel in the series. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

UPDATE! Elliott James: PAX ARCANA SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing review post for Elliott James' PAX ARCANA SERIES by adding a review of Legend Has It, the fifth novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

UPDATE! Gena Showalter: LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing review post for Gena Showalter's LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD SERIES by adding a review of The Darkest Promise, the 13th novel in the series. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

UPDATE! Ilona Andrews: HIDDEN LEGACY TRiLOGY

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing review post for Ilona Andrews's HIDDEN LEGACY TRILOGY by adding a review of White Hot, the second novel in the series. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

New Novel by Jeff VanderMeer: "Borne"

Author:  Jeff VanderMeer  
Title:  Borne 
Plot Type:  Post-Apocalyptic Eco-Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  MCD: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                    

     Am I a person?” Borne asked me.    
     “Yes, you are a person,” I told him. “But like 
      a person, you can be a weapon, too."

     In Borne, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company―a biotech firm now derelict―and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech.


     One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump―plant or animal?―but exudes a strange charisma. Borne reminds Rachel of the marine life from the island nation of her birth, now lost to rising seas. There is an attachment she resents: in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet, against her instincts―and definitely against Wick’s wishes―Rachel keeps Borne. She cannot help herself. Borne, learning to speak, learning about the world, is fun to be with, and in a world so broken that innocence is a precious thing. For Borne makes Rachel see beauty in the desolation around her. She begins to feel a protectiveness she can ill afford.


     “He was born, but I had borne him.”


     But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of her sanctuary with Wick at risk. For the Company, it seems, may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same. 


                    MY REVIEW                    
     I have to admit that early on in my reading of Borne, I almost gave up because I had a hard time immersing myself in VanderMeer's fantastical post-apocalyptic world. The novel is set in the ruins of a once-great city that is nearly surrounded by a poisonous river―"a stew of heavy metals and oil and wastes that generated a toxic mist, reminding us that we would likely die from cancer or worse." This world is the aftermath of a biotech disaster that occurred when a biotech corporation called the Company lost control of the weird and wild creatures that it created. Click HERE to read Irene Noguchi's interview with VanderMeer entitled "Talking with Jeff VanderMeer about Borne, Mothers, and Nurturing.” That interview begins with these words from Noguchi: "Science-fiction author Jeff VanderMeer's books are an Audubon guide of fantastical creatures. From glow-in-the-dark fungi that spell out words to bloodthirsty bears that fly through the night sky, VanderMeer pushes past the boundaries of what’s real with plants and animals both recognizable and terrifying." 

     The scariest biotech creature in the city is Mord, a fierce, gigantic, rage-filled bear that was developed by the Company as a sort of watchdog. But Mord soon grew to be three stories tall and broke free of the Company's grip, dooming the Company and the city when he destroyed the Company's headquarters and other buildings and began chowing down on the city's inhabitants. Rachel views the mutant bear as "the de facto ruler of our city." Eventually, Mord learned to fly and now spends his days sweeping through the skies, knocking over buildings that get in his way and feasting on citizens who are unlucky enough to catch his attention. Rachel is a scavenger, and she frequently risks her life by catching a ride on one of Mord's lower legs. As Mord travels through the city and around its outskirts, salvageable bits and pieces get caught in his furthings that she takes back to her partner, Wick, who uses them to create new biotech that he sells on the streets to help them survive.

     One of the most interesting bits that Rachel finds is Borne, a biotech creature who is pictured on the book's cover in one of his/her/its many sizes and forms. When Rachel finds Borne, helet's call him "he" because Rachel decides that Borne is a boy―is caught in Mord's fur. When Rachel first sees Borne, he "was not much to look at...dark purple and about the size of my fist, clinging to Mord's fur like a half-closed stranded sea anemone. I found him only because, beacon-like, he strobed emerald green across the purple every half minute or so." Rachel brings Borne back to Balcony Cliffs, the huge, decrepit riverside refuge she shares with Wick, only to discover that Wick dislikes and distrusts Borne and would like nothing more than to take the creature apart and use his innards to make more biotech to sell to his contacts out on the streets. Rachel refuses to give Borne to Wick and finds a place for him in her bedroom. There, she begins to feel like Borne's mother as she teaches him how to read and tells him about life in the human world. Soon, Borne begins to grow, to change shape, and then to speak. He is obviously able to absorb knowledge at a superhuman ratebut that's not all he absorbs. When Rachel learns how Borne handles his hunger, she is repulsed, but then just refuses to accept the reality of what Borne really is. 

     Borne and Rachel's burgeoning friendship/mentorship merges with Wick and Rachel's romantic partnership in troubling ways, becoming a true test of their trust in one another. At one point, Rachel says that she can't understand how Wick trusted so many people in his life before the city's collapse. She muses, "I couldn't remember as an adult when I had trusted three people at the same time." Now, with Borne in their lives, trust and betrayal become even more important and elusive for all three inhabitants of Balcony Cliffs. When Rachel and Borne's relationship hits a particularly rough spot, she thinks, "That's the problem with people who are not human. You can't tell how badly they're hurt, or how much they need your help, and until you ask, they don't always know how to tell you." Later, Rachel learns that this problem can also surface in relationships between two humans.

     As the situation in the city deteriorates, Rachel, Borne, and Wick face multiple enemies, several of whom mount violent attacks against them. By the time I realized that Borne was going to develop constantly during the course of the story―in a wide variety of weird, interesting, and unexpected ways―I found myself fully involved in the plot and enjoyed the story immensely, all the way through to its bittersweet ending.

     This novel is difficult to describe and impossible to summarize. VanderMeer has created a completely original approach to post-apocalyptic eco-fiction that mixes real humans, tech-enhanced humans, and robotic creatures into an inventive and intriguing plot that slowly pulls you in and keeps you turning the pages to see what in the world is going to happen next. 

     At the end of this post, I have included a few of the best comments from mass media reviewers. I have to agree wholeheartedly with the last reviewer (Brian Ted Jones) who compares Borne's experience to that of the little alien in Spielberg's E.T., because that's exactly what popped into my mind as I watched Borne and his human friend, Rachel, meet and try to understand each other's world views. Watching Borne develop into the creature he was meant to be is a fascinating literary experience.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt on this novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio. 

             QUOTATIONS FROM MAINSTREAM MEDIA REVIEWS              

     ”VanderMeer is that rare novelist who turns to nonhumans not to make them approximate us as much as possible but to make such approximation impossible. All of this is magnified a hundredfold in Borne . . . Here is the story about biotech that VanderMeer wants to tell, a vision of the nonhuman not as one fixed thing, one fixed destiny, but as either peaceful or catastrophic, by our side or out on a rampage as our behavior dictatesfor these are our children, born of us and now to be borne in whatever shape or mess we have created. This coming-of-age story signals that eco-fiction has come of age as well: wilder, more reckless and more breathtaking than previously thought, a wager and a promise that what emerges from the twenty-first century will be as good as any from the twentieth, or the nineteenth." ―Wai Chee Dimock, The New York Times Book Review

     "The conceptual elements in VanderMeer’s fiction are so striking that the firmness with which he cinches them to his characters’ lives is often overlooked . . . Borne is VanderMeer’s trans-species rumination on the theme of parenting . . . [Borne] insists that to live in an age of gods and sorcerers is to know that you, a mere person, might be crushed by indifferent forces at a moment’s notice, then quickly forgotten. And that the best thing about human nature might just be its unwillingness to surrender to the worst side of itself.” ―Laura Miller, The New Yorker


     "Borne, the latest novel from New Weird author Jeff VanderMeer, is a story of loving self-sacrifice, hallucinatory beauty, and poisonous trust . . . Heady delights only add to the engrossing richness of Borne. The main attraction is a tale of mothers and monstersand of how we make each other with our love." ―Nisi Shawl, The Washington Post.

     "VanderMeer offers another conceptual cautionary tale of corporate greed, scientific hubris, and precarious survival . . . VanderMeer marries bildungsroman, domestic drama, love story, and survival thriller into one compelling, intelligent story centered not around the gee-whiz novelty of a flying bear but around complex, vulnerable characters struggling with what it means to be a person. VanderMeer's talent for immersive world-building and stunning imagery is on display in this weird, challenging, but always heartfelt novel." ―Krista Hutley, Booklist (starred review)

     "With Borne VanderMeer presents a parable about modern life, in these shaky days of roughshod industrialism, civilizational collapse, and looming planetary catastrophe . . . Think of Borne as a retelling of Steven Spielberg’s E.T, or the character arc of Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s the story of humanity making contact with something strange, alien, artificial, but yet possessed of a personality, a sense of humor, a drive to find love and friendship and community, to be a part of something―and to be respected―respected the way immigrants, refugees, the oppressed the world over have always wished to be respected." ―Brian Ted Jones, The Rumpus  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

NEW SERIES! Vivien Jackson: TETHER SERIES

Author:  Vivien Jackson
Series:  TETHER 
Plot Type: Post-Apocalyptic Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4+; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks Casablanca
          Wanted & Wired (4/2017)
          Perfect Gravity (11/7/2017)

                         WORLD-BUILDING                          
     The series is set in the U.S. in a post-war world in which Texas has seceded and established its own republic run by the Texas Provisional Authority (TPA). The rest of the country now calls itself the United North American Nations (UNAN). Currently, a hot/cold war is going on between Texas and UNAN. Both Texas and UNAN are staggering under catastrophic climactic conditions (like extreme drought). Additionally, at one point, when a character mentions the scarcity of fresh fruit, Jackson tells us that this is a post-insecticide world—but never explains the cause of that situation. 

     Central to the series is futuristic cyber-technology, including both robotics and nanoscience. Four very different types of "people" populate this world:
Whole-organics are regular human beings with no technological modifications.
Post-humans are people who were born wholly human but have been "technified" by various modifications to their brains and internal organs and by the insertion of various implants. The modifications can be simple or extremely complex and can be programmed by their creators.
Mechs are human-shaped robots created in laboratories. They can be programmed to do a variety of tasks, but they can never truly experience human emotions (although they can be programmed to mimic those emotions). A mech-clone is a special type of mech that has been shaped as an exact replica of a specific human. These mech-clones are indistinguishable from the human they are imitating. You can imagine how this would come in handy during a time of war when each side wants to infiltrate the other.
Free-fae collectives are holographic beings that work like walking, talking databases for the person who created them. They are highly illegal and are sought after by both law enforcement agencies and the underworld. Free-fae collectives can take any shape, including that of the human body. Although they appear to be solid, they are not. If you try to touch them, your hand goes right through them. They are made up of a large swarm of nanos that can change form as needed. Although free-fae collectives can look just like humans, they cannot experience most human senses. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas in which Jackson's mythology goes awry. Jackson never explains why her free-fae collectives can hear and understand human voices but cannot hear a number of other sounds. She doesn't explain why these entities without solid form can pick up something but cannot sense itcannot feel its texture, smell it, hear it, or taste it. For example, one free-fae collective picks up a dress but cannot hear the rustle of its fabric or feel its softness. It is difficult to understand why Jackson never bothers to explain any of these inconsistencies.
     The series title—TETHER—has several meanings. On a literal level, it refers to a tether that connects an outer-space station with the Earth. "The station connects to the ground using a space elevator. Planes...can dock with it up near the top, and then we can ride up to the station. We call it the tether." On a metaphorical level, "tether" refers to human connections—the emotions and needs that bind us to our loved ones. The thematic questions asked by the series are these: What is it that makes us human? Is it our bodies? Our connections with one another? Can a mech or a robot be considered part of humanity? And what about evil humans—are they as "human" as a good-hearted mech or robot or free-fae collective?

     On her web site, Jackson calls TETHER a cyber-punk series. Certainly, she has crammed it full of futuristic technology and cyber-speak—sometimes to the detriment of the forward motion of the action. In the first book, Jackson inserts many world-building details into the first few chapters, but she holds back some crucial information so that she can scatter it in bits and pieces all the way to the end of the book. This is particularly true of her lead characters' backstories. We learn much about their physical appearances and personalities in the first chapters, but we don't get any information about their pasts until the final chapters. Although this approach can work if the author judiciously doles out the details as a means of building suspense and drama or, even better, if the information emerges organically in the course of the story, but Jackson doesn't really handle it that way—at least not in the first book. In Wanted & Wired, she brings the story to a halt about half-way through and sets up an information dump scene by giving the hero and heroine some downtime away from the action so that they can peer into each other's eyes, confess a few of their darkest secrets, and finally let loose their lust. 

                         NOVEL 1:  Wanted & Wired                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     A rip-roarin' snarky, sexy sci-fi paranormal romance series with the perfect balance of humor, heat, and heart. Now that Texas has seceded and the world is spiraling into chaos, good guys come in unlikely packages and love ignites in the most inconvenient places...

Rogue scientist • technologically enhanced • deliciously attractive
     Heron Farad should be dead. But technology has made him the man he is today. Now he heads a crew of uniquely skilled outsiders who fight to salvage what's left of humanity: art, artifacts, books, ideas—sometimes even people. People like Mari Vallejo.

Gun for hire • Texan rebel • always hits her mark
     Mari has been lusting after her mysterious handler for months. But when a by-the-book hit goes horribly sideways, she and Heron land on the universal most-wanted list. Someone has set them up. Desperate and on the run, they must trust each other to survive, while hiding devastating secrets. As their explosive chemistry heats up, it's the perfect storm.   xxx—xxx (em dash) xxx–xxx (en dash)   über-alpha själsfrände Ragnarök clichés
   
MY REVIEW:  
    In the opening scene, Mari, a for-hire mercenary and skilled sniper, is on a mission to destroy a mech-clone. Her partner Heron, a heavily implanted post-human, is in the get-away car providing on-scene data and watching her back. "They were working partners, sharing a contract but not much else. On this particular job, she functioned as shooter to his operations planner, but he had lots of other assets in play: drones, cameras, software bots, you name it."

     When Mari makes the kill shot, she is shocked to discover that she has actually murdered the whole-organic (human) that the mech-clone was imitating. Obviously, someone has set her up, and now she's in big trouble. The next chapters follow Mari and Heron as they attempt to escape from an army of UNAN law enforcement organics, mechs, and drones. And just to spice up the action, some mysterious post-human hit-men are also trying to capture them. During these chapters, we learn that Mari and Heron have been working as partners for about six years, that each has romantic feelings for the other, but that both keep the attraction a secret because they fear rejection. 

     Heron believes that Mari hates tech-enhanced humans so much that she would never consider him as a romantic partner. "He knew what she thought about people with implanted tech. Cyborgs. No better than machines." And Mari believes that Heron is so much smarter than she is that he looks down on her for being so ignorant about his technological world. They have other differences and other doubts, but these are the main ones.

     Both Mari and Heron are keeping deep, dark secrets from one another—secrets that each believes could destroy their partnership and their friendship. Oddly, though, when the secrets spill out, there are no heart-breaking emotional repercussions for either of them: no big, dramatic, angst-filled, hurt-feelings moments at all—just a low-key reaction of surprise and immediate acceptance. So all of the secret-keeping drama ends with a whisper, not an explosion, and that is quite a letdown given the fact that the secrets are the basis for much of the suspense on which Jackson has built the romance plot.

     Mari has two living relatives: Aunt Boo, who raised Mari in Texas and still lives there, and her father, a rogue nano-scientist captured by the TPA after the Austin riots during the beginning of the secession. The primary reason that Mari took the contract with the TPA to destroy the mech-clone was that they promised to tell her where her father was and, perhaps, to let her speak with him. The father-daughter relationship becomes more and more important as the action plot advances.

     Eventually (about halfway into the book), Mari and Heron reach safety in his spaceplane and eventually seek sanctuary in Chiba Station, "a privately owned space station run by an entity who calls herself the queen of Chiba." Jackson's next books will tell the love stories of his friendsthe crew members who fly his futuristic spaceplane:
Kellen Hockley is a lean, lanky, jeans-clad whole-organic who was a veterinarian in pre-war times. Now, he is Heron's chief medical officer and provides vital tech support. Mari nicknames him "cowboy" for his looks, his Stetson, and his Texas drawl.
Chloe is a gorgeous free-fae collective. Mari nicknames her "perky blond." Mari muses that, "Chloe could look like anything she wantedher whole existence was just a loose confederation of nanites and light particles held together with digital willbut she wasn't real, couldn't know smells and tastes and touches...Chloe would never stroke that sweet kitty down the corridor, never smell flowers or sex or ghost peppers. Never taste Jamaican rum or her own tears."
Garrett is a whole-organic mechanical genius who is in charge of all of Heron's hardware, on the ground and in the air. Mari nicknames him "squirrel-nervous mechanic." Garrett is obviously in love with Chloe, but she is unaware of his feelings because she can't feel emotions.
     In the final hundred pages, the pace picks up considerably as Jackson builds up the action and suspense on her way to the inevitable showdown scene that resolves much of the conflict. 

    I'm sure you want to know more about the 4+ sensuality rating I have awarded this novel. Let's just say that this is the first novel I've read that includes techno-sex (and lots of it). When Heron is driving his James Bond-ish car or his spaceplane, he is actually wired into them, so whatever Mari touches (or fondles), Heron feels it in various sensitive body parts. Mari is an extremely sexual being, so she takes full advantage, and when he turns the tables and begins using his personal techno-sexual abilities on her, things get really hot, hot, hot!

     I have to say that I have mixed feelings about the future of this series. Although Jackson has established most of the techno-mythology, she hasn't done a top-notch job at integrating it into the plot. The reader needs to truly understand this complex technology-based world in order to make sense of the plot, and Jackson's explanations are frequently incomplete, inconsistent, or utterly lacking. Also, Jackson gives no background on the causes of the Texas secession or on the horrific climate conditions that are affecting the world. Most importantly, though, her big reveal about Mari is problematic to the extreme. There is no way that secret could have been kept from Heron or from Marino way at all. It is so implausible and disappointing that it spoiled the entire book for me. I'll probably read the next novel just to see if Jackson gets a better handle on her mythology and her plotting, but after that...we'll see.

    The second novel will tell Kellen's story, which has a direct connection to Wanted & Wired. You see, Kellen's soul mate is the widow of the man Mari accidentally murdered back in the very first chapter when she shot the human instead of his mech-clone. In fact, the action in Perfect Gravity overlaps the action in Wanted & Wired, beginning with the scene in which Kellen has to tell Angelo Neko that her husband is dead. Parts of this scene appear in both novels.

     To read an excerpt from Wanted & Wired, click HERE to go the book's Amazon.com page and click on the cover art.

                   NOVEL 2: Perfect Gravity (pub. date 11/7/2017)                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Second in a snarky, sexy sci-fi romance series with the perfect balance of humor, heart, and heat. When someone tries to kill powerful continental senator Angela Neko, Texan outlaw and old flame Kellen Hockley is the only man who can keep her safe...and help her save the world. 

     Kellen Hockley usually keeps quiet about his past, but once upon a time he loved a girl named Angela. He hasn't seen her in a decade, but now he has to break the news to her that his team of rogue treasure hunters accidentally killed her husband. He's had better days.

     It's not the news that's delivered to Angela Neko that breaks her apart—it's the rumbly, Texas drawl delivering it. She can't believe she's hearing Kellen's voice again. But there's no time for distractions. When Angela's own life is threatened, yielding up all of her lies and secrets, she and Kellen must figure out how to reverse the geopolitical firestorm she lit to save the world, to save Kellen's cat...and just maybe to save each other.