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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lisa Renee Jones: ZODIUS SERIES

Author:  Lisa Renee Jones
Series:  ZODIUS
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Rating:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor1
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks Casablanca 
     The Legend of Michael (2011)
     The Storm That Is Sterling (11/2011)
     "Renegade Passion" (e-novella, 5/2012)
     The Danger That Is Damion (5/2012)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 6/17/12 to include a review of the third book in the series: The Danger That Is Damion. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the series and reviews of novels 1 and 2.

                  NOVEL 3:  The Danger That Is Damion                  
     Damion Browne is one of the Renegade's top soldiers, and as an enforcer of the Renegade's code of honor, he lives life strictly according to the rules. As the story opens, Damion and his friend, Chale, are protecting a Russian nuclear scientist when Damion notices a beautiful female with a gun. That woman is Lara, who has been brain-washed by General Powell's scientists and injected with serum that turned her into a GTECH. When Lara takes aim at the scientist, she can't make herself pull the trigger, giving Damion the time he needs to capture her. 

     The two are immediately attracted to one another, and the plot mostly follows their love story. Lara has no memories of her life before Powell. He has made her believe that all GTECHs are badboth Zodius and Renegadesand has turned her into an assassin, programmed to kill all GTECHS. The last thing that Lara can remember is that someone killed her mentor, and Powell has made her believe that the Renegades were the murderers. Damion begins breaking Renegade rules almost immediately by protecting Lara and refusing Caleb's suggestion that the Renegade medics should take a look inside Lara's brain. The Renegades fear that Lara may be faking her memory loss in order to infiltrate their ranks, but Damionalmost from the first moment he meets hertrusts Lara and believes that she is telling the truth.

     Meanwhile, Sabrina (a traitorous woman whom we met in previous books) is now the head of Powell's new female army. Powell's right-hand man is Lucian, also a traitor familiar from previous books. When Damion grabs Lara and wind-walks her away to safety, Sabrina seeks help from Lucian and the two of them try to get Lara back before the Renegades can deprogram her. Powell's new project is called Project Serenity, but the atmosphere at his headquarters is anything but serene. His people are consumed with in-fighting and back-bitingall trying to be top dog. Powell himself is not seen in this book; he is in Europe on other business, believing that he has left his project in competent hands. Unfortunately, that was a bad decision for him but a good one for the Renegades. Beyond the romance, the story line follows several attempts by Sabrina and Lucian to capture Lara.

     This romance is filled with the requisite numbers of angst-filled inner monologues and passionate love scenes. When the Lifebond mark appears on Lara's neck, their situation becomes even more complicated because of Lara's continuing memory loss and the fact that a true blood bonding might mean death for her and, perhaps, for Damion. This book runs about the same romantic course as the previous two with the exception that, for the first time, we have a female and a male GTECH getting together, which complicates things for the medical staff.

     By the end of the book, General Powell is back to square one, having lost his medical laboratory, his workers, and his female army. Since Powell believes that any GTECH who is not under his control must die, it's a sure bet that he will fight back. Adam and his Zodius forces do not appear at all in this book, so we don't know what they are up to at this point. Adam's son, Dorian, is still living with Caleb and the Renegades, and Caleb is trying to win him over to their side. With his speedy aging, Dorian now appears to be 20 years old, and his powers are growing stronger and stronger. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.

     In this world, there are no supernatural creatures—no vampires, werewolves, or demons. Instead, the main characters are super-soldiers called GTECHs, who are stronger and faster than humans, heal themselves from most injuries, and windwalk—that is, fade invisibly into the wind and travel great distances at super speed. The GTECHs were created by General Powell and his medical staff. They selected human soldiers and then, without the soldiers’ knowledge, injected them with the GTECH vaccine, which appears to have come originally from the DNA of aliens (the extraterrestrial kind). This secretive work was done at Zodius City (near Area 51). Early on, the U.S. government sponsored the GTECH program, but it was eventually shut down when some of the soldiers developed the X2 gene, which caused them to become violent and uncontrollable.

     In each book, one of the GTECH soldiers (but only the good guys) meets and mates with his soul mate. In this world, that is called a Lifebond. When a woman has sex with her true mate, she gets a mark on the back of her back that signifies he is her mate. That bond is not completed until the two have shared blood. If a blood-bonded Lifemate dies, his or her mate also dies, so that adds some tension as the couple tries to decide whether to do the blood-sharing completion of the bond.

     Click HERE to go to a page on the author's web site with brief biographies of the Renegade soldiers.

        BOOK 1:  The Legend of Michael        
     As the novel opens, Cassandra Powell (clinical psychologist and daughter of Dr. Powell), falls in love with Michael Taylor, a tall, dark, and handsome GTECH, who comes across like a 21st century version of Conan the Barbarian, but with better manners. Dr. Powell is secretly continuing to experiment with his GTECH serum, but now he wants to add Red Dart, a laser program that will turn the GTECHs into nothing more than super-strong robotic slaves who will do his bidding. Of course, Powell, in typical meglomaniac fashion, is doing all of this to keep our country safe; at least that’s what he tells himself and anyone who questions his motives. In the early part of the book, the GTECHs learn that they are to be victims of the Red Dart program. They rebel and overrun the Zodius compound, but Dr. Powell, his daughter, and some of the medical team escape. After the takeover, the rebels split into two groups: the Zodius, led by the sociopathic Adam Rain, and the good-guy Renegades, led by Adam’s twin brother, Caleb. So...the conflicts are as follows:
> Dr. Powell wants to capture all of the Zodius soldiers and all of the Renegades so that he can Red Dart them and get them under his control.
> Adam wants to capture Dr. Powell and his Red Dart medical team so that he can create his own army, and he wants to shut down the Renegades and get his brother to join the Zodius group.
> Caleb wants to capture Dr. Powell and his Red Dart medical team so that he can destroy the Red Dart formulas, and he wants to shut down the Zodius group.
> Later in the book, yet another GTECH soldier forms a group in opposition to both the Zodius and the Renegades.
     Got all that? In the meantime, the romance between Michael and Cassandra is front and center throughout the book. In the early chapters, the two have their first sexual encounter, which results in a mark on Cassandra’s neck that indicates that the two are well on their way to a Lifebond (aka soul mate joining). When Adam leads the Zodius takeover, Michael unaccountably joins the bad guys and becomes Adam’s second in command. He stays away from Cassandra for two years and lets everyone think that he has turned to the bad side. (Now, we know that this must be a mistake, because Michael is the romantic hero, which means that he is one of the good guys. You must just keep reading to discover the truth.) Both Cassandra and Michael beat themselves up emotionally over and over again about their horrible parents, about Michael’s unknown future with his G2 problem, and about what will happen if Michael has to eventually kill Cassandra’s father to keep him from using Red Dart. Aside from its complicated triangulation of antagonists, the story is compelling, and the romantic protagonists are suitably filled with both passion and angst. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.

        BOOK 2:  The Storm That Is Sterling        
     As the story begins, Sterling Jeter is sent to retrieve an astrobiologist, Rebecca Burns, who happens to be his childhood sweetheart. She may or may not be assisting Adam in his research. As Sterling is explaining the situation to Becca, they are attacked by Zodius soldiers and captured. In order ensure their cooperation, Adam's second in command (the evil Tad) forces Becca to drink a dose of ICE, a drug that addicts the user after the very first dose, forcing that person to take a daily dose forever after. Skipping just one dose results in a painful death. ICE is made from the blood of Adam's son, Dorian, who is only six month old but has a monstrous growth pattern that is similar to that of Renesme, Edward and Bella's baby. Dorina matures at a rate of two years for every month of life, so right now, he appears to be 12 years old, and he's totally evil to the core—a sociopath with absolutely no humanity whatsoever. One story thread follows the romance that develops between Sterling and Becca as they escape from the Zodius and then try to deal with their mutual distrust of one another. They must also deal with the fact that Becca has been suffering from a virulent form of lung cancer and that she is now addicted, through no fault of her own, to ICE for the rest of her life—however long that might be. The other plot line follows Adam's machinations as he tries to recapture or kill Becca. Since her ICE addiction kicked in, Becca has developed some powers that both sides want. She can knock any GTECH unconscious, and she has some mind control skills as well. The complexities of this world result in convoluted plots, so here's another bulleted list of what's what at this point:
> Adam wants to capture or kill Becca so that he can either use her powers or keep his brother from using them. He also wants to use her in his sex camps to try to find her Lifebond so that she can procreate. 
> Tad wants power, any way he can get it. As a result of using ICE, he has developed some powers that he tries to keep secret, and those powers add complications to the plot.
> Sterling wants to trust Becca and hopes that she is his Lifebond, but still has some suspicions that she might be Adam's ally.
> Becca wants to trust Sterling, but still fears that he has ties to Adam. She is also afraid that she is his Lifebond and that he will die to protect her.
> Caleb wants to believe that Becca is on their side so that her astrobiologist background can help the the Renegades in their research.
     The devious General Powell is absent from this book until the final scene, where he provides a link to the next book. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.

     The series comes across as a mash-up of Lora Leigh’s BREEDS (without the shifters) and Christine Feehan's GHOSTWALKERS. We have Feehan's super-strong, magically talented, macho men created by mad scientists, and we have Leigh's sexually enhanced lifebonding between the men and their human soulmates—a bond for life that intensifies with every passionate interlude. One unfortunate aspect of this series is that the villains are truly bad to the core. Unfortunately, one-dimensional villains are completely predictable and a bit boring. This series gets more and more complex, with the intricacies of the plot being much stronger than the character development. As a result, the characters are rather one-dimensional—all angst and worry, with little depth.

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