Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Author:  Rachel Caine
Plot Type:  Romantic Horror/Suspense
Ratings:  Violence-5; Sensuality-2-3; Humor-2
Publisher and Titles:  ROC
          Working Stiff (2011)
          Two Weeks Notice (8/2012)
          Terminated (9/2013) (FINAL) 

     This post was revised and updated on 10/7/13 to include a review of Terminated, the third and FINAL novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 1 and 2:  

          BOOK 3:  Terminated              
      As the book opens, Bryn Davis is trying to deal with her newly upgraded nanites, which she unwillingly received near the end of the previous book. These nanites were developed by the Fountain Group, a corporate entity backed by a rogue military element within the U.S. government. Fountain Group plans to use the nanite technology to create a fierce, unkillable army that they can use in any nefarious manner they choose. The upgraded nanites have turned both Bryn and Riley into unstoppable forces who cannot be killed in any normal way. Their nanites immediately heal the damage caused by gunshots, burns, stabbings, and torture. They can even restart hearts that have stopped. In this book, for example, Bryn is "killed" several times but always returns to life. Once she is shot directly in the heart and another time right between the eyes, and each time, she's up and around within the hour. In fact, Bryn gets killed so many times in this book that the initial shock wears off quickly, to be replaced by apathy (Egad, she's dying again? Let me skip the repetitive paragraphs of painful recovery and get back to the story.) At this point, Bryn isn't sure what she's going to become, and her physical condition and emotional distress are putting a wrench into her relationship with her boyfriend Patrick McCallister. 

     Is there a down side to Bryn's new condition? Of course there is. The nanites require huge amounts of protein to keep running, and they're not particular about where it comes from. As Brynn realizes early in the book, she is "Dead Girl Walking....A supercharged, meat-craving freak capable of passing on her sickness..a...zombie." (p. 7) Beyond her unremitting craving for red meat, Bryn's main problem is that the nanites are infectious. Every thirty days they compel their carriers to infect someone, so Brynn has just one month to find a way to stop the process before she passes on the nanites to some unsuspecting victim.

     The plots of the previous books had some complexity, but not this one. It's just one long chase. Bryn and her cohorts take off across the country in search of a means to stop Fountain Group, but the bad guys are ALWAYS one step ahead of them. The primary villain in this book is Jane, Patrick's psychotic ex-wife, who is also infected with the 
nanites upgrade and who heads up an army of mercenaries that gets a lot of help from rogue government and military officials. Bryn's team includes Patrick's long-time partner, Joe Fideli, and Bryn's FBI frenemy, Riley Block. If this were a movie, it would be a Bruce Willis über-action blockbuster filled with camouflaged mercenaries operating enough state-of-the-art military equipment to fight a worldwide war. I realize that this is a fantasy novel, but really, every time Jane appeared in the middle of nowhere with her fully armed troops, her missiles, her helicopters, and a full fleet of tanks (and this happens again and again), my open-mouthed disbelief tended to overcome my enjoyment of the story.

     Sadly, this is the weakest of the three books, with its long, drawn-out car chase plot that ends way too quickly with a rushed, pulled-out-of-nowhere resolution. Of course, if you've been reading the series, you'll want to read this final book anyway just to see what happens to Bryn and her friends (and enemies), but beware that the first 3/4 of the story is a repetitive series of run/hide/fight/escape scenes, and the ending is resolved too hurriedly and too neatly (There's a definite rainbows and kittens feel to the ending, but maybe that's not such a bad thing.) Click HERE to read chapter 1 of Terminated.

      Caine turns her back on her usual vampires and djin in this series and focuses, instead, on zombies. These zombies, however, are not the shambling, moaning physical wrecks we traditionally see in movies and TV shows like The Walking Dead (which, by the way, opens its 2nd season on October 16th—Yay!). Instead, these dead people are revived completely by a new drug called Returné, which releases nanites into their bodies that repair illnesses and injuries, making the "dead" person, for all intents and purposes, immortal. There's just one tiny catch: Each revived person must receive a shot of Returné each and every day, ad infinitum, or he or she will go straight into gruesome deterioration followed by rotting death. Predictably, the company that created the drugPharmadeneis rotten to the core. Click HERE to view a "secret video" by Pharmadene extolling the benefits of Returné (creepy, but brilliant). (Scroll down the page; the video is just below the cover art for Working Stiff.)

     Here are two quotations from Caine as she discusses the series with David Martindale from the Fort Worth StarTelegram (7/29/11):

     "I had attended a couple of lectures from some guys who were doing nanotechnology....One of the things they were talking about was how to use nanotechnology to heal damaged cells. From that, I had this idea: What if you gave somebody an injection that would literally fix their physical damage? Would that reverse death. I thought it would be an interesting way to kick off a series."                          

     "I feel like horror is a necessary outlet for people....So many awful things happen in the real world every day that we can't control and sometimes can't even understand. But in fiction, we're able to make those awful things controllable and understandable."  

          BOOK 1:  Working Stiff          
     The series heroine is Bryn Davis, and as Working Stiff opens she is starting her first day as a funeral director at Fairview Mortuary, which caters to the wealthy citizens of San Diego. By the end of that day, Bryn has been murdered, revived with a shot of Returné, and spirited away to a hospital room at Pharmadene, the mega-pharmaceutical company responsible for developing Returné. Apparently, someone within Pharmadene has been selling Returné to Bryn's boss at the mortuary and he, in turn, has been black-marketing the drug to any of his wealthy clients who have enough money to cheat death. Pharmadene wants Bryn to return to the mortuary as its new owner so that she can work undercover to try to set up a meeting with the person who was supplying her former boss with the illicit Returné. As part of the deal, Pharmadene guarantees Bryn that she will receive a shot of Returné every day so that she can stay alive, at least as long as she is useful to Pharmadene. The shots will be given by her two handlers: Joe Fideli and Patrick McCallister. Joe is a friendly, happily married man with kids, and Patrick is an aloof, moody, enigma. Guess which one is Bryn's love interest? (Actually, I was disappointed that Joe is married, because he comes across as a much nicer guy than Patrick.) As it turns out, neither Joe nor Patrick is being entirely truthful to Bryn (or to Pharmadene) about their actions and motivations.

     The plot follows Bryn, Patrick, and Joe as they attempt to identify, trap, and capture the mysterious and dangerous drug supplier and are faced with betrayal and deceit every step of the way. The story moves along at a rapid pace, and I got caught up in the action, but there are some problems with Caine's concept of Returné, specifically the fact that if someone—anyone—simply says the words "Condition Sapphire" or "Condition Diamond" to a revived person, that person must do exactly what is commanded of them. This seems like a huge weakness in the drug if just anyone can invoke these commands. Wouldn't Pharmadene have set it up so that a specific person must give the command (for example, the person who gives the shot)? The Sapphire and Diamond protocols appear to be known to many people, so it would seem that any one of them could counteract another person's command if they wished, thus nullifying the process. This whole situation just didn't work for me. It's a definite weakness in the series mythology.

     Another thing that doesn't work is the fact that the heroine is in a truly hopeless situation, and she's in it forever and ever, with absolutely no hope of redemption. I like my heroines to have a least a slim chance in life, but Bryn is utterly doomed. She has no control over the source of Returné, so she is totally dependent on others to get it for her and to inject her (because the syringes are all coded so that they can only be injected by specific people). This means that Bryn is forced to live only in the moment, knowing always that her painful deterioration and horrible death are always just days away. How depressing is that? To emphasize Bryn's predicament, Caine even gives us a graphic scene in which a woman deprived of Returné for a week or so is on the point of ghastly death, and Bryn must cut off the woman's head to stop her suffering—all the while knowing that this will eventually happen to her. Bryn deals with the situation better than I would, that's for sure. She has her panicky moments, but, in general, she keeps her mind off her shaky future. Still and all, her situation is so irrevocably dark and desperate that even when she wins a battle or two against the bad guys, you (and she) know that she's so close to a nightmarish true death that her small victories don't add up to much. That's not a great feeling to have about your heroine.

      The action throughout the book is violent, dark, and bloody, with the good guys getting beaten up and shot more than the bad guys. I am classifying this as a paranormal horror/suspense series, although there is a seed of a romantic story beginning to grow—like a rose blooming in a pile of manure, unfortunately.

Don't read the next paragraph before you read the book. 
Just to make it easier for you to skip over it if you hate spoilers, 
I've darkened the font color so that you have to 
select the texthighlight itin order to read it. 

    And just one more problem: the ending.  All through the book, we have been following a trio of good guys: Bryn, Joe, and Patrick. As soon as Riley entered the story, I knew that she was some kind of a ringer, but I had no idea that she would be part of an unbelievably vast FBI operation that just pops up out of nowhere. Patrick is played up to be such a genius at covert operations that I had a hard time believing that he could possibly have overlooked the fact that the FBI has been deeply involved in their own Pharmadene investigation and that the government has positioned a huge military force in his city as part of that investigation. So...I didn't buy the ending, not even for a moment.

O.K.  Back to regular font color
You can start reading againno more SPOILERS. 

     I plan to read the next book to see where Caine is going with this story line, but I hope that she finds a way to lighten it up just a bit and do something to clear up that whole Sapphire/Diamond command problem.  

     Click HERE to read the first 45 pages of Working Stiff. (Just click on "Read More..." next to the cover art.)

          BOOK 2:  Two Weeks Notice          
      It has now been six months since Bryn died and revived, and she has settled into her new life, unhappily dependent on daily doses of Returné to keep herself alive. Bryn's Returné formula has been altered by the eccentric scientist, Manny Glickman, to filter out the Sapphire and Diamond protocols that subvert her will and allow her to be controlled by another person. Bryn's sister, Annie, is still missingin the hands of Mercer, the former Pharmadene executive who was selling Returné on the black market in book 1. Bryn is living in Patrick McCallister's mansion, but they are keeping their relationship on a relatively platonic level for the moment. She is now the owner of the funeral home, assisted by Joe Fideli, her bodyguard and the administrator of her Returné injections. 

     As the story begins, Bryn gets a call from her FBI nemesis, Riley Block, demanding that she help them out in a Pharmadene-related investigation. Since the FBI can make Brynn disappear at any moment if they so choose, Bryn must cooperate with them. The new leader of Pharmadene—an FBI undercover agent—sends Bryn to interview personnel at a janitorial service used by Pharmadene, but when Bryn arrives, she finds the office trashed, with only corpses and a primed bomb left behind. Grabbing a thumb-drive that she finds in the trash, Bryn barely makes it out alive. When the thumb-drive reveals videos of the deaths of three former Pharmadene employees who had been killed and revived with Returné, Bryn and her crew investigate and find that a growing number of Returné addicts have gone missing. 

     So...the two main problems for Bryn and her friends in this book are to find out who is killing the revived Pharmadene employees and to rescue Bryn's sister from Mercer. In between the action episodes, Bryn deals with her romantic situation with Patrick, which they finally consummate, only to run into some major bumps in the road when a person from Patrick's past surfaces to threaten Bryn and her entire group of allies.

     Bryn is still a heroine without much of a future, and her character suffers the majority of the injuries depicted in the book. Even though Bryn heals quickly, each time she is tortured or badly injured, she suffers through a lot of severe physical and emotional trauma, all of which combine to change her. After one particularly nasty torture scene, Bryn ruminates: "She could feel her body trying to process out the stress in random twitches and shakes, but they were like the lightest possible surface tremors, and deep inside, tectonic plates were shifting, crashing, re-forming. The damage had to go somewhere, and it turned inward....Bryn had a new, desperate fear that it would change her, rip her apart and cobble her back together into something that was human only on the outside..something that had lost all sense of what it meant to love and be loved in return. Something that understood only pain." (p. 248) Just as Bryn forces herself back under control, she finds herself beset by an even more terrifying condition, brought on during the inevitable showdown with this book's new group of bad guys. So... just when she thinks that she's hit rock bottom, the bottom drops down another notch.

     This is a terrific book, filled with action, angst, and adversity. Two problems from the previous book are resolved: The Diamond/Sapphire protocol situation is dealt with, and there are no more illogical events. The various story threads play out nicely as they begin separately but then interweave in a chillingly suspenseful manner. This is turning out to be a great series, although I must warn you that it is very, very dark, with the heroine placed in one dangerous and hopeless situation after another, with little hope of deliverance. 

No comments:

Post a Comment