Among my favorite authors are Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Their first three novels, Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, and Carpe Diem were released in paperback form in the last 80s, which is when I purchased my copies. While other books have been placed and then removed from my bookshelves, these books have remained among my favorites. The characters are familiar friends and I always reconnect to them with pleasure.
After these novels were published, Lee and Miller were dropped by the Del Rey after they were asked to write books according to someone else' formula and they declined. It was a loss for their fans and their books fell out of print. Fortunately, Meisha Merlin picked up their catalog in the late 90s and started publishing new novels from them as well. Now, they are being published by Baen. As new readers pick up their novels, they need to realize that the writing is not consistent through their oeuvre, a fault that may be due to different editors. Consequently, I recommend that readers begin with the first three novels published and continue with the books in the order published instead of following the space opera's chronological order. Don't abandon the series because one or two novels aren't as good as the others. This is space opera at its finest and I highly recommend the series.
As for the audio versions, some of these novels were previously recorded and released as audiobooks. Of these, only one, Local Custom, was released by Audible. Now many of the older novels have be rerecorded as the new ones have been recorded and the sound quality is much better. The narrator Andy Caploe does deliver in terms of delivering some of the subtleties of Lee and Miller's writing style. The best narrators tell the story as if they are sitting around the kitchen table talking to you personally. Unfortunately, Andy Caploe delivers the narration in this novel with a slow weightiness that tends to weary and he doesn't do well with the women's' voices. Every word does not need to be treated as if it is the most important word in the world. And while he does a fairly good job with Val Con and Edger's voices, he fails completely with Miri's voice. She comes off not as a young, strong, smart woman, but as a whiny, old woman from New York who smokes and whose voice is lower than a mans. It is a complete miss in terms of representing her character.
For me, Jane Eyre will now always sound as she does in this audiobook version narrated by Susan Ericksen. Before buying this audiobook, I had read Jane Eyre twice and Susan Ericksen's finely nuanced reading made made the story new and fresh to me. Every part of the story held my attention. If you are wondering which of the many audiobook versions you should try, I don't believe that you can go wrong with this one.
Fans of the television shows Lost and Once Upon a Time will probably like this novel as the plot development is very similar. The same pattern of quirky characters finding some bizarre mystery or problem, the search for information, the big reveal, and then repeat, repeat, repeat.
There is a very real sense of being manipulated by ignorance as just enough information is doled out to keep the story going as the reader constantly tries to figure out what is going on until, of course, the writer feels like it is time to end the story. Think of a cat being teased with a toy mouse, occasionally being allowed to pounce on the toy only to find it jerked out of its reach.
Clearly, it's not my type of story. However, as Lost and Once Upon a Time are clearly very popular shows, the novel can and does suit many people. It is also filled with a lot of Easter eggs which will delight many readers.
While I've given 14 four stars, which on my scale indicates a novel that held my interest long enough to finish it, there are some very real problems with the novel.
For example, there is long description about a woman who lives in the building who has credit problems. Unless I missed it, and I'm not interested enough to go back and listen again, she, and her credit problems, have very little to do with the rest of the story and her story line could have been omitted.
I also found the sexual relationships that formed to be more of an afterthought or convenience, as if the characters happened to be there and hooked up. There was little to no real attraction, or love, between the characters described. And again, I'm not interested enough to go back and see if I missed anything.
Overall, the novel is written well enough. But, it could have been much better if the writer had payed closer attention to the relationships between people and the story.
First of all, I mistakenly believed from the description of this book that it was a science fiction novel. It's not. Technically, it is a romance. There is so little knowledge of technology represented in this book that the mind link device could just as easily be a piece of alien wizardry as it could be of science.
As a romance, the novel should allow the reader to vicariously experience Ashley V falling in love with with the alien ZXQ-One/Sam. We should learn who these people are from the way they act, what they value, and the world they live in. However, there is no depth to either the characters or the story. The basic story is told so starkly as to be simplistic. It is as if the author were given an outline of a story to write and used the fewest possible words to achieve that goal. Due to a lack of foreshadowing, key plot points appear as needed out of nowhere. Need a place to escape to? Poof! Here is a child who needs rescuing and he will lead you a safe place.
In spite of the lack of detail and logic in this novel, it did hold my interest. I give partial credit to the narrator who did an excellent job, with a nod to the author who shows potential if she makes the effort to grow as a story teller.
There were parts of this novel that I enjoyed. The world building was interesting and the writing was good enough. Unfortunately, starting about half-way through the novel, I started to lose interest. Before I downloaded the audiobook, I checked out reviews on Amazon.com and skimmed through a copy from the library. So I was warned by many readers who had trouble relating to Chess's drug addiction. I found that her drug addiction was and was not the problem.
We like our heroes flawed. Even Superman had his flaws. Without flaws, these heroes would be gods and what story, what conflict would there be? Gods would just change the world to be the way they want it to be with no argument, no resistance, and no story.
So, Chess's flaw is that she uses drugs to deal with childhood trauma. That flaw could make her unique and interesting character if she could learn from her mistakes and choose to change her behavior. She even admits that her addiction is a burden and chooses to maintain it anyway. So, she bumbles her way through her life making mistakes that cost lives, mistakes that could be avoided. And when she has bumbled her way through everything and comes out admired as a hero, she doesn't need to suffer any remorse or change her behavior because now she has a good, cheap source for even more pills.
There are many writers who are discovery writers: they sit down at a keyboard and make up a story as they go along. After the novel is written, they go back and clean up the plot holes, clear away the extraneous detail, and add the details and foreshadowing that make the story flow in a logical sequence. Unfortunately this novel reads like the first draft of a discovery writer who failed to review his work. New elements of the story appear abruptly as the writer thinks of each cool new idea and consistently fails to tie the ideas and scenes together or prune away ideas that don't advance the story. For example, the long drawn out sex club scene includes descriptions of equipment, people, and events that were not relevant to the story. The writer should either make such information relevant or leave it out.
Finally, the narrator Jessica Almasy has an abrupt, halting way of reading that is similar to a computer generated voice in a text-to-speech system. Meaning is drained from the words as they are translated into sound. Her stumbling, awkward speech constantly knocks the listener out of the story.
If you are looking for another Stephanie Plum/Janet Evanovich novel, you've found it. While I enjoy the Stephanie Plum series, I've reached the point that I prefer to borrow them from the library, saving my Audible credits for books that I care to listen to more than once.
And herein lies the irony: in order to prevent the waste of a credit, I actually checked out a hardcover copy of this book from the library and read the first few chapters of the book before I bought the audiobook. I should have read the last half of the book as well. By the middle of the book, any originality that the author brought to this genre was gone. By the last quarter of the book, I became so convinced that Janet Evanovich had written this book that I actually went to Darynda Jones's web site to find out why a Janet Evanovich novel appeared to be written by Darynda Jones.
On the web site, there are pictures there of a person labeled Darynda Jones and there is a picture of the two authors together. So, the publisher is really playing up the connection between the two authors. But I'm going to call them on it. Either Janet Evanovich wrote First Grave on the Right and is using a pseudonym, or she helped Darynda Jones complete it. And either way, the novel is a rehash of the Stephanie Plum series, all the way from Stephanie's attitude down to her ponytail, the love triangle, and a version of Grandma Mauzer.
Finally, any book that I have to force myself to finish while rolling my eyes and gritting my teeth gets one star.
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