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Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Author:  Kim Harrison  
Plot Type:   Near-Future Thriller 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Gallery Books (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)
          "Sideswiped" (introductory story, 8/2015)
          The Drafter (novel, 9/2015)
          The Operator (11/2016)   

This post was revised and updated on 12/3/2016 to include a review of The Operator, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the introductory novella and the first novel. 

          FAIR WARNING!          
     Do NOT read my review of The Operator until after you read     
  The Drafter because it contains serious spoilers for the first novel.     

                         NOVEL 2: The Operator                        
     On-the-run ex-agent Peri Reed returns bigger and bolder than ever in this second highly anticipated installment in Kim Harrison's new suspense trilogy, THE PERI REED CHRONICLES.

    Peri Reed’s job eats her mind, but for a special task agent in hiding, forgetting the past can be a blessing. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and the agency who turned her into the very thing she fought against, Peri abandoned the wealth and privilege of Opti for anonymity riddled with memory gaps and self-doubt. But when a highly addictive drug promises to end her dependency on those who’d use her as a tool for their own success, she must choose to remain broken and vulnerable, or return to the above-the-law power and prestige she once left: strong but without will—for whoever holds her next fix, will hold her loyalty. Yet even now as then, a love based on lies of omission might still save her life.

     As the novel opens, Peri is running a coffee shop that is located over an old illegal medical dump. The residual contamination from the dump covers up the radiation signal from the chip that Peri's former handler and current enemy injected into her body. She is always on the lookout for trouble because she knows that her former handler, Bill Heddles, will never give up on dragging her back into the "business." All Peri wants (or so she keeps telling herself) is as normal a life as a drafter can havefree of mind manipulation and memory wiping and free of all of the peoplemostly menwho lied to her for all of the years she worked for Opti, the United States' clandestine special ops program. At the top of her enemy list, right alongside Bill, is Jack Twill, her long-time anchor (and lover) who turned out to be her biggest betrayer.

     Since the demise of Opti, Bill has been working for a group headed by a mysterious, wealthy woman named Helen Yeomon. Helen has had chemists working on a drug called the Accelerator that will "chemically destroy the synapses that cause you to forget a draft." In order to keep the drafters under her control, she and Bill have had the chemists concoct an addictive drug called Evocane that must be taken before the Accelerator. Since Helen and Bill control all access to both drugs, this means that any drafter who takes the Evocane becomes totally dependent on them for their next fix. Without regular and frequent doses of Evocane, the drafter would become permanently psychotic. "And that, of course, was the control. They had only to withhold the maintenance drug and she'd do whatever they wanted...She'd be a tool, a piece of ammo. Whoever held the source of that [Evocane] held the power, not her...They had a cure. It would make her perfect but would turn her into a slave."

    Meanwhile, the government has its own covert group, the World Enumeration Federal Taskforce (aka WEFT), led by a cold-hearted man named Mr. Steiner. WEFT is rounding up drafters who are still not locked up in mental hospitals. Basically, that very small group comprises Michael Kord, who has hooked up with Bill and Helen, and Peri, who doesn't plan to hook up with anyone. Michael is a psychotic drafter who is determined to get rid of Peri so that he can be the first one to be injected with the Accelerator. Also in the mix are the other three men in Peri's life:
> Jack Twill, the betrayer who has survived Peri's attempt to kill him at the end of the first novel and who has joined up with Bill;
> Dr. Silas Denier, the chemist who loves Peri and for whom Peri realizes she has fond feelingsalthough she can't remember exactly what their relationship has been (because Jack erased so many of her memories); and
> Allen Swift, a friend who seems to be looking out for Peri, but who sometimes changes sides without warning.
     The plot follows Peri as Steiner and Bill make repeated attempts to capture her. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes they fail; and sometimes even when captured, she escapes. When she escapes, sometimes she is alone, sometimes she is with Jack, and sometimes she is with Silas.'s a run, run, run plot, with Peri in danger most of the time. Along the way, Peri picks up two people who start out as adversaries but become allies: Harmony Beam, a WEFT agent, and LD, an underworld drug dealer who discovers that he has a lot in common with Peri.

     Just as in the first novel, Harrison delves deep into Peri's emotions as she ponders the possibilities of actually taking the drugs and being ablefor the first time in her lifeto remember everything. She thinks about the addiction and the consequences of being at either Steiner's or Bill's mercy and she knows that she doesn't want that life, but deep down, she truly wants to know what it feels like to have a real memory of her life. In addition to missing her memories, Peri also misses the wealthy lifestyle she was accustomed to living during her years with Opti. Selling coffee to rich businessmen and women was never part of her life plan. "Peri...still found herself breathing in the expensive cologne of the suits she served as if it were a drug. She eyed their leather briefcases and high-end purses, knowing their cars were as shiny as the fob resting beside their state-of-the-art phones and tablets...She knew the simplicity she'd built around herself was a lie as she lured in everything she missed, all the while pretending she'd made a clean break from what she didn't want to be, what she couldn't be."

     The plot is suspenseful and action filled all the way through. Although we see most of the story from Peri's perspective, Harrison also includes a few chapters from the point of view of Jack, Bill, and Silas so we also get a peek into their mindsets as well.

     One of the quirky bits is that Silas has programmed Peri to see a hologram of Jack to use when she drafts without an anchor: "a structured mental scaffold designed and implanted to keep her from going insane when two conflicting timelines had been left to fester in her mind." The illusion is so complex and so intricately tied to her intuition, that whenever fake Jack gets antsy, Peri knows that trouble is near. Even as an hallucination, Jack is as snarky and narcissistic as he is in real lifealways looking out for number onehimselfand always trying to inveigle his way back into Peri's good graces.

     This is another terrific chapter in a fascinating series. Peri is a strong and intelligent heroine who copes with her strange and dangerous lifestyle as best she can while dealing with heavy emotional stress from people who want to use her, control her, andin Silas' caselove her. Although the whole concept of drafting and memory manipulation is complex, you soon learn to go with the flow of the story. But you MUST read the first novel before you read this one or you will be COMPLETELY lost. Trust me on this. 

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Operator on the novel's page where you can click on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio.

     In this explanation of the world-building, I quote heavily from Harrison's own descriptions because she does it better than I ever could. In a video interview, Harrison describes the series as a tech-heavy science fiction espionage thrillerBourne Identity meets Minority Report, with the memory loss, betrayal, and government conspiracies of the first plus the multiple futures of the second.

     The series heroine, Peri Reed, is a drafter, a rare person who can alter time in very short intervals within a relatively small space: 10 to 60 seconds in an area no larger than a square mile or so, but usually much smallerwithin a room or within the drafter's personal space. Peri's very first draft happened when she was five years old and broke her arm in a fall. In pain, she unknowingly went back in time a few seconds, replayed the scene, and kept herself from falling, thus preventing the broken arm. 

     The problem with drafting is that drafters remember what happenedthe two timelinesonly until time catches up with them. At that point, they cannot remember either the real past or the past they created to supersede the real past, so they become very confused. As a character explains in "Sideswiped," "They'd gone back twenty seconds, but every one of them would remember what had happened until time caught up and the drafters forgot." 

     In a podcast interview, Harrison explains the pros and cons of drafting: "Being able to manipulate time is a very strong gift, and there are strong drawbacks to balance that out. When Peri drafts, she loses not only the memory of the past she changes, but also the memory of the past she created, and if she’s unlucky, she’ll lose even more time—even weeks and months of her history...The anchors help the drafters remember the past they have forgotten." An anchor meshes his or her mind with the drafter's mind to manipulate and rebuild the drafter’s memory, and that's fine if the anchor is loyal to the drafter, but it's disastrous to the drafter if the anchor's loyalties lie elsewhere. The truth is, the anchor has complete control of the sanity of the drafter. 

     In an interview, Harrison explains that "the idea of a drafter who shifts time, and an anchor, who keeps the drafter sane after doing it, was born from the need to have limits. Peri was already going to be incredibly gifted in terms of kick-butt-attitude, and needing to depend upon someone to such a high degree to maintain her sanity helped balance that out. That this dependency is a lie, fostered by her employer to maintain control, gave me an opportunity for a lot of character growth." 

     As soon as drafters are spotted in the general population, they are singled out for special training by Opti, a covert government-supported organization that trains and hires drafters and anchors to carry out a range of assignments across the globe, some paid for by various government agencies and some by private interest groups. "Opti agents tweaked the present to set the future, and they had their fingers in everything from the development of soft fusion, to the legalization of replacement organs, to making sure U.S.-financed Finland made a manned landing on Mars before Putin." Opti constantly reinforces the idea that drafters must always be with their anchor when they draft, or risk getting caught up in a memory knot that could drive them into catastrophic memory-eclipsed paranoia (MEP), which usually ends with the drafter's suicide. Keeping the drafters always connected to their anchors allows Opti to control precisely which memories the drafters are allowed to keep and which are erased.

     For more of Harrison's thoughts about this series, here are some links to interviews and posts: 

   > Click HERE to read a conversation between Kim Harrison and Charlaine Harris about taking new fictional directions

    > Click HERE to read a guest blog by Harrison in which she lists nine fictional characters who were her inspiration as she created Peri Reed. 

    > Click HERE to go to Harrison's blog, where she offers several posts about the series.

    > Click HERE to listen to a 27-minute podcast interview in which Harrison discusses the series.

For "Sideswiped"Click HERE and scroll down a bit to listen to an audio excerpt. 

For The Drafters:  Click HERE and scroll down to read the Prologue and the first two chapters on Harrison's web site. Click HERE to read chapter 3 on the RT Book Reviews blog.

     And finally, here is a fun fact about Peri's name from an interview with Harrison: "Peri’s name actually comes from Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who fought in the war of 1812 to secure the Great Lakes. After a mediocre career at sea, he valiantly won back from the British a small island chain in Lake Erie, Michigan. It allowed the American troops to retake Detroit, or Michigan might belong to Canada today….Using Commodore Perry’s name for my protagonist felt fitting. He’s the guy who said 'Don’t give up the ship!' and while that’s not Peri’s motto, she doesn’t give up anything, even a grudge."

     And just one more thing: The erased memory element in this series reminds me of Devon Monk's ALLIE BECKSTROM series in which the titular heroine also finds herself missing big chunks of time and writes notes to herself to try to fill in the gaps. Like Peri, Allie was also betrayed by someone close to her. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in that excellent series.

                        INTRODUCTORY STORY .5:  "Sideswiped"                         
     Don’t miss this thrilling first look into the elite world of Peri Reed, government agency operative extraordinaire…

     Every hero, even the accidental ones, has a beginning. Silas’s radical theory that drafters are not replaying time as much as they are temporarily sliding into an alternate universe has never been well-received, but frankly, the darling of Opti’s research has enough clout not to care, until a professor with a grudge tries to put a permanent end to it. Love can’t alter time, and sometimes, even being able to rub out a single mistake isn't enough. 

     This 80-page introduction to Harrison's PERI REED CHRONICLES drops the reader directly into a futuristic, technology-driven world in which trained and talented drafters can alter time. The students in this story are all part of a training program by Opti. "Opti's students went on to the FBI, CIA, and mall security. It was only the top one percent who continued in the program to become Opti agents, and then one percent to them became the gods and goddesses of time." 

     In the opening scene, set in 2025, Peri Reed, the series heroine, misdirects a drone, which breaks through a window in a proctored college examination room and hits Dr. Silas Denier, a tech genius, in the head. Peri then gets caught when she is tripped up by one of the students as she grabs the drone and tries to escape. At that point, Peri (although we don't know yet that this is Peri), draftsgoing five seconds back in time and replaying the scene, but in her new version of that brief piece of time, she jumps over that outstretched leg and makes a clean getaway. 

     We follow Silas through the rest of that night as he is called upon to monitor a final examination exercise in which two anchor/drafter pairs (one that includes his drafter girlfriend, Summer) vie with one another to gain access to a box of chocolates and then escape with their prize. But the evening goes terribly wrong, and all of the students are punished. When they try to avenge themselves on their teachers, the situation gets even worse, but this time the repercussions are deadly. 

     Although most of his superiors at Opti believe that drafters go backwards in time, Silas hypothesizes "that drafting time wasn't moving back as much as it was sideways. He'd had to invent most of the instruments to gather his data….He'd been at it for six years and had nothing to show but a handful of gadgets. If not for the versatility of the slick-suits and light pistols, his funding would have been cut years ago." The light-beams shot by Silas's pistols paralyze the part of the body that they hit. Silas invented them as part of his research, but Opti has weaponized them, and Silas is unhappy about that. 

     Reading this story is valuable in that it provides a taste of the series mythology, and it introduces three of the characters who will be at the heart of the series: Silas, Peri, and Allen. Pay attention to details as the characters interact because those will be clues to their personalities five years later when The Drafters begins. I am eagerly looking forward to reading The Drafter, which I will be picking up as soon as I put the period at the end of this sentence. 

                                   NOVEL 1:  The Drafter                                   
     Detroit 2030. Double-crossed by the person she loved and betrayed by the covert government organization that trained her to use her body as a weapon, Peri Reed is a renegade on the run. 

     Don’t forgive and never forget has always been Peri’s creed. But her day job makes it difficult: she is a drafter, possessed of a rare, invaluable skill for altering time, yet destined to forget both the history she changed and the history she rewrote. 

     When Peri discovers her name is on a list of corrupt operatives, she realizes that her own life has been manipulated by the agency. Her memory of the previous three years erased, she joins forces with a mysterious rogue soldier in a deadly race to piece together the truth about her fateful final task. Her motto has always been only to kill those who kill her first. But with nothing but intuition to guide her, will she have to break her own rule to survive? 

Here is a list of the main characters:
> Peri Reed: an elite, beautiful, highly talented drafter who is at the top of her profession, but then goes into a major skid
> Jack Twill: Peri's handsome, blond anchor, whom she loves dearly and trusts implicitly (at first)
> Bill Heddles: Peri's handler at Opti, who may or may not be corrupt
> Dr. Silas Denier: a tech genius we met in "Sideswiped," who now works for the alliance and who has a history with Peri
> Fran Jaquard: the head of the alliance (introduced at the very end of "Sideswiped")
> Allen Swift: Peri and Silas' college friend, an anchor who works for Opti (also a character in "Sideswiped")
     The novel has two primary conflicts: the conflict between Opti and the alliance (a group of drafters and anchors who are opposed to Opti's dishonest and murderous agenda) and the conflict between Peri and all of the untrustworthy people in her life. As the series begins, Peri believes that Opti acts for the good of the world, but does it? At the beginning of The Drafters, Peri has been working for Opti for five years. She and her current anchor, Jack Twill, are lovers (as is the usual case with drafters and anchors) and have been together for three years. She trusts him completely to anchor her through her drafts and to defragment (aka defrag) her memories after each draft is completed. Here is Peri's description of their teamwork: "Holding the world together while a new timeline formed was her job. Witnessing and rebuilding her memory was his job…"

     As the story begins, Peri and Jack have sneaked into a plush corporate office to steal some computer files. When they are interrupted, events occur that cause Peri's intuition to interfere with Jack's memory defrag, which usually brings her back to normal—well, as "normal" as Peri ever gets. This time, she loses three months of memory, but she begins to have fragmentary flashes of memories that should have been erased. Part of that remembered knowledge is that her name is on a list of agents who are corrupt. Peri has given her life to Opti, so she is shocked and hurt that they believe that she is disloyal, and she vows to clear her name no matter what it takes. In the next few chapters, Peri's wonderfully secure, exciting, well-paid life disintegrates as she learns that the very people she has loved and trusted for years have betrayed her. Now, she has to construct a whole new "normal" for herself, and she isn't sure that there is anyone she can trust. 

    The problem is, whenever Peri drafts, she loses memories. And in several instances, Opti wipes away huge chunks of her memory—at one point, three whole years. So, if Peri learns in one scene that a character is corrupt or dangerous, she loses that memory as soon as she either drafts or gets a memory swipe. She keeps a diary and writes notes on her hands to remind her, but nothing really works. She is at the mercy of any anchor who can manipulate her mind. At one point, she compares herself to an Etch a Sketch"Don't like what you see? Give me a good shake, and write what you want." For much of this book, Peri is a victim, but she fights victimization every step of the way. Her motto is "I don't kill anyone who doesn't kill me first." That means that if a person deals her a death blow (and this does happen—more than once), she instantly drafts back to before she is killed and alters events to make sure that her killer dies and that she lives. Peri's kill-you-if-you-kill-me mantra plays a key role in the plot of this book. 

     Reading this book is like carefully opening a package covered with many, many layers of wrapping. As each layer is peeled away, Peri's life changes because her memories are constantly being altered. Almost half-way though the book, new information suddenly appears in the narrative—information that stopped me dead in my tracks. From that point on, information from the characters' pasts is woven through present events, combining to make a plot that contains a surprising twist or turn in every single chapter. (The big one at the end of the book is a real shocker! Please don't read the ending first—you'll hate yourself if you do!) 

     Harrison has said that the series has a strong personal thread that that pays attention to relationships and how they move us and motivate us. As that thread expands, Peri is torn apart mentally and emotionally (and sometimes physically) by each side—Opti and the alliance—and she is desperate for someone to trust—but who? All her life she has been told that she can never be alone, but now she is alone. Will she lose her mind? Can she survive on her own? Is there anyone she can trust? (At one point, she writes on her hand, "Trust no one.") Many of the scenes are heartbreaking as Peri has breakthroughs in her attempt to regain normalcy, but then has her memories altered yet again, thereby losing all of the new information she has learned and all of momentum she has built up. Even the reader doesn't always know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy as more and more details pile up on both sides of the equation. Harrison has hinted that in the next two novels, Peri will discover ways in which to deal with her memory losses. It will be extremely interesting to see how that plays out. 

     Harrison tells the story in the third-person voice from multiple viewpoints, mostly Peri's. Some of the chapters are narrated solely from Silas's perspective as he wrestles with his mixed feelings for Peri and tries to decide which side he will choose in this unfolding adventure. At this point in his life, Silas has no illusions that either Opti or the alliance is a "good" organization. He sees both as corrupt, self-serving and extremely dangerous, and he wants nothing to do with either of them. "He was not an agent. He was a designer, a tinkerer, an innovator whose playground was where the surety of electronics met the vagaries of the human mind. And they wanted him to run a maze like one of his rats?" The alliance "was made up of renegade Opti personnel who believed the government shouldn't control the ability to manipulate time…They worked in the shadows funded by benefactors…It was exchanging one power-hungry boss for another as far as Silas was concerned." 

     This futuristic world is filled with technological innovations: cars with solar-gathering paint that keeps their batteries charged, wafer-thin glass phones, holographic touch-screens, and droneway paths for delivery and recreational drones. The technology is primarily in the background—it's just part of life in the new Detroit, which has been rebuilt into an aesthetically pleasing city with "defined pockets of clean industry, commerce, and housing,…connected…with green relief and quiet transport all layered over the original foundry steel."

     This is a terrific new series with an introductory novel that I absolutely loved. Don't be put off by the sci-fi label. Yes, the story has elements of sci-fi, but also threads of romance, mystery, and suspense. Trust the author of the beloved HOLLOWS to present us with another complex, gutsy, smart, unstoppable heroine. I predict that Peri Reed will become just as iconic as Rachel Morgan. Peri's search for the truth of her life is as heartbreakingly poignant as Rachel's search for love and belonging. In this book, Harrison gives us her usual masterful plotting and nuanced characters, along with the mind-boggling inventiveness of this futuristic, tech-based world. The story moves along at such a fast pace that I could hardly turn the pages fast enough. A confession: I started reading The Drafter after dinner, and kept reading all night, finishing it at about 5:00 A.M. (thankfully I didn't have to get up and go to work the next day). I do recommend that you read the novella first to acquaint yourself with the drafter/anchor relationship and with the main core of characters. 

END NOTE: Harrison has said that "The Drafter is my commentary on Alzheimer’s disease and those afflicted with it, being erased day by day, and their heavy dependency on first their intuition and patterns to hide the breaks, and their eventual and utter dependency upon those they loved to keep them to the person they were. That’s what Peri Reed is about" This perspective on the story is made achingly poignant in the Epilogue of this book (and, again, please don't read the ending first).

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