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Publisher's Summary

In 2015 the Quantum Bomb exploded. An accident at an atom-smasher has fractured reality and opened Earth - now called Otopia - to waves of immigration from other dimensions, home to demons, fairies, elves and elementals. It is now 2021 and Lila Black, a special operative condemned to live as a cyborg after losing her limbs on a dangerous mission, has been assigned as bodyguard to Zal, a charismatic elven rock star.

Zal's decision to live among humans and do unelven things such as eat meat and exist as a celebrity has made him many enemies among his own people in Alfheim, some of whom have made threats against him. Black has to protect Zal from death or capture whilst uncovering secrets that threaten the relationships between the realms

©2007 Justina Robson; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

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  • Overall

Clever and realistic

I really liked this book, I found the matter of fact treatment of elves, faries in the "real" world really interesting, and rewarding reading. I guess I am a techno geek, but I found the AI and human interaction made for good listening, though of course as always the AI was far, far too advanced for something available in 10 years from this date. The one thing both good and annoying was the fact that the author had the world of humans unclear about its own past.

As for the main character's self loathing, that was absolutely vital for any believability. There is no chance that the first such person would not have self loathing. Just look into any study of people with artifical limbs and their feelings towards them,and then consider someone who is at least have man made.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Susan
  • Morgantown, WV, United States
  • 11-04-10

Very Enjoyable...for the most part.

My husband and I read this to each other on a road trip, and although we both loved it, he took it and finished it himself and I never got around to it. I downloaded it as my first free credit, and although the fourth and fifth hours were pretty monotonous, I loved the premise, the plot, and her word choice. Sometimes I thought that Khristine Hvam gave Lyla a very immature and silly voice, and certain sentences or phrases I'd reread to myself in the temper I thought they deserved. Hvam wasn't great. But it's not stopping me from downloading the next two in the series.

Yes, there was constant talk of Lyla's AI self (AI self, AI self...she must have said that a billion times) but to me it was very interesting because it's what Lyla would be considering as she made every calculated move on her journey. I loved the idea of the Quantum bomb splitting Earth's reality into five realms that already existed and Otopia rebuilding history with the new elves and faeries. I was totally into Zal's silly band, the No-Shows. And I would have played that game with him, yes, and probably failed.

I give it four stars. If you love campy scifi and elves and faeries and mech ladies with a billion weapons and "Battle Standard," give it a shot.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Katherine
  • St. Johns, FL, United States
  • 05-15-12


Lila Black is a high-price cyborg special agent. She used to be a regular human, but after a disastrous encounter with someone from a parallel realm, she nearly died. Then she was rebuilt, at huge expense, and is now being sent by her government intelligence agency to be the bodyguard of Zal, an Elfin rockstar who has received some threatening letters. Things get complicated when Zal and Lila become involved in Elfin politics.

Justina Robson???s Keeping It Real has an intriguing premise: a nuclear bomb explosion in 2015 opened up the fabric of the universe and made five parallel worlds accessible to each other. Until then, humans had thought that elves, elementals, and demons were the stuff of fantasy novels, but now they must figure out how to live at peace with all these other species, not to mention the magic they wield.

Unfortunately, that???s about all the good I can say about Keeping It Real. The characters are shallow and unbelievable, especially the protagonist. It???s hard to accept that the government has spent billions of dollars to rescue, rehabilitate, and train Lila to be one of their best superweapons because Lila is pathetic. It???s easy to see why she was nearly killed; she is emotional, weak-willed, unprofessional, and lacks judgment ??? traits that don???t seem to get better after she???s given machinery to help regulate her internal states. She???s constantly angry, resentful, irritated, nervous, flustered, and always on the verge of a meltdown. While on this assignment, she is less aware of what???s going on around her than she is about how she feels about the male characters, how they feel about her, and which female characters might be jealous of her. She quickly and unthinkingly falls for two different men, letting her ???heart??? make important decisions about who she should trust and to whom she should give secret information. And she???s a lot more worried about her relationships than her job. Some special agent.

Another problem with Keeping It Real is the ???science.??? Robson seems to be asking us to take the science seriously, suggesting a rational basis for parallel worlds, discussing the way that Lila???s machinery can control the release of hormones (something it doesn???t seem to do very well, I guess) and split her consciousness so she can act sentry while sleeping, etc. This is something I???d normally enjoy, but Robson just gets stuff wrong ??? basic stuff like confusing brain EEG patterns while sleeping and waking. This is material that???s been in almost every high school psychology textbook for decades and is easily checked at Wikipedia. Getting it wrong really kills your credibility. Mixed with the ???science??? is the ???wild magic??? which is seen, on Lila???s electromagnetic display, as sparkly pink and purple swirls in the ether... don???t get me started.

I might have been able to forgive the aforementioned problems if the plot had entertained me, but it was dull and, frankly, often ridiculous. Where it tries to be funny or profound, it???s just silly or trite. It???s not even suitable for a juvenile audience because of the sex which we know is going to occur because Lila gets bound by an Elfin ???Game??? based on ???sexual forfeit??? within a few minutes of meeting Zal the rockstar. She didn???t even know the rules of these common Elfin Games before she took the assignment and I guess her agency didn???t bother to warn her. (Maybe they thought it was as unbelievable as I did.)

It really pained me to finish Keeping It Real. I only kept on so I could review it, though I admit that I skimmed parts by speeding up the playback of the audiobook to three times normal narration speed. The reader, Khristine Hvam, was fine, though her male voices don???t sound masculine and she reads the word ???across??? as ???acrost??? which made me cringe. But I have to give her credit for not snickering when she read the words ???His body was poetry in her mouth...???

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jennifer
  • austin, TX, United States
  • 06-28-09


I got this book thinking I'd review it for a friend who likes this kind of thing. I didn't expect to like it myself. However, I found the characters interesting- and the leading man simaltaneously sexy, repellant, and pitiful- and the plot compelling. There is a sort of mixture of high fantasy and gritty contemporary culture that is a jarringly nice combination. Despite myself, I got the next book in the series. I'm not sure where this is going, but I find myself- sadly devoid of other book recommendations- interested to find out.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

I made to the end....barely

Some interesting ideas here, strange new worlds, okay not so new, but a fresh spin on them. But really unbelievable characters. Was only able to suspend my disbelief so far and then it crashed. Lila the main character, young, lovely (are they ever anything other than lovely...?!), robo-girl, suffering from what?...self-loathing or something rather shallow if you ask me. Is tricked out in the latest, greatest weaponry and computer gear ever seen or heard of. Supposedly her government has spent billions (yes, billions) of credits on her. You would think that they would pick someone who is a bit less self-centered, would train her enough so that she doesn't make incredibly stupid decisions, would have plumbed the depths of her psyche enough to know whether or not she had the emotional stability and mental toughness and just plain smarts to be a "super-spook". Descriptions of people, places, weapons, situations are done well. Character development is weak, one-dimensional, or illogical. Characters never behave in a manner that makes sense except maybe to a teenager in the throes of hormone imbalance. And dialog....what a joke! There are what sounds like whole pages of conversation that consist of give and take between characters of one to three words. Painfully simplistic questions and answers that are supposed to be deep and revealing and just sound juvenile and condesending.
I liked the reader mostly. She has a pleasant voice and most of her "voicings" were decent. I didn't care for her male voices though that may have also been a problem with the dialog.
I gave it one star...ok plot, gratuitous stupidity, gratuitous sex...ugh.

12 of 18 people found this review helpful

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This story has everything!

I love this series! It a near perfect melding of fanatasy and sci fi!

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Book is confusing

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

I don't know - the reader is great, but the plot twists and story didn't do it for me.

Has Keeping It Real turned you off from other books in this genre?


Have you listened to any of Khristine Hvam’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Yes. The reading is great; I listened to about a third because of the reader.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment in general

Any additional comments?


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  • Kyle
  • DENVER, CO, United States
  • 05-26-13

Excellent and somewhat underrated

There have been some negative reviews of books in this series. These reviews are not exactly incorrect, but in my view they are rather missing the point. For what it is, 'Keeping it Real' is quite good. You can look at it in a few different ways (of which I will mention 2). You can look at it as a novel version of something "Tomb Raider"- a fair bit of action and some chewy scifi and fantasy elements to round it out. If you like that sort of thing (and I do, from time to time) then this will suit just fine, although maybe I would stop at book 1 if that's all you want. If you want to look a little deeper the story is something that I personally find very enjoyable; a 'broken' character in the process of being fixed. This is something I haven't seen done much, and if you get hung up on the superficial aspects of the setting- love 'em or hate 'em- you might miss this underlying theme. It brings wonderful texture to the story and some of the most fascinating character development I've seen anywhere. You don't just get to watch interesting characters bounce off each other, you get to see them genuinely grow and change in a believable way while at the same time being upbeat. A lot of books tend to be either two dimensional in characterization or else fall into the trap of angst overdose. This does neither, and it does so charmingly.

  • Overall


I stuck it out, listening to this audiobook for about an hour before I had to call it quits. The premise of the book was interesting, but the writing was immature to the point where it was annoying. For example, there was way too much focus on the heroine's AI attributes. It was irritating to have the story continually interrupted to explain how the heroine's AI attributes were making minor adjustments to her body while she was going through normal life events, like riding a motorcycle. This detail added nothing to the plot, not even a "wow" factor. Worst of all, the heroine simply wasn't believable. I want my credit back.

3 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Cassandra
  • Perry, GA, United States
  • 05-25-09


I stuck it out, listening to this audiobook for about an hour before I had to call it quits. The premise of the book was interesting, but the writing was immature to the point where it was annoying. For example, there was way too much focus on the heroine's AI attributes. It was irritating to have the story continually interrupted to explain how the heroine's AI attributes were making minor adjustments to her body while she was going through normal life events, like riding a motorcycle. This detail added nothing to the plot, not even a "wow" factor. Worst of all, the heroine simply wasn't believable. I want my credit back.

3 of 7 people found this review helpful