(With Bonus Mini-review of: The Clockwork Girl.)
I reviewed Archer's first science fiction ebook, Collision Course, about 8th Wing and their fight against PRAXIS and I loved it. A special thanks to all the commentators who pointed out that in real life PRAXIS can stand for a type of standardized test. I still love the series but now every time the word comes up all I can think of is number two pencils.
Anyway, I had high expectations for Chain Reaction and those expectations were met and exceeded. Wonderful characters, a geek hero (SWOON!!!!), great dialogue both serious and funny, and a refreshing amount of realism considering the setting. After a sequence of ebooks in which protagonists were practically knocked senseless by their first encounter with the godliness of the other, it was lovely to see a more realistic but still passionate description of attraction and deepening emotional romance.
Celene Jur, an 8th Wing fighter pilot, was kidnapped by PRAXIS in the last book, and the technology that made her ship so very awesome was stolen. She and Nils Calder, sexy geek extraordinaire, have to track down the bad guy, get the tech, and bring him back for court martial if possible. The mission is personal for Celene, who wants revenge, and for Nils for reasons that are not apparent immediately. Although the two are attracted to one another, they must overcome a perception that the fighter pilots and engineers do not mix, as well as Celene's fear of being courted as a celebrity (she is famous in 8th Wing for her awesome piloting and combat skills) instead of being recognized as a person.
Like CC, Chain Reaction forces two people to deal with their feelings by having them spend long periods of time in a small spaceship together. Happily, they do have quite a bit of time at the beginning of the book to interact with their larger group of friends and co-workers. These are my favorite scenes. The friendship between Mara from CC and Celene was awesome. More friendships in romance, please! It was also a treat to see Mara and Kell as an 8th Wing couple.
I also have high praise for the sex scenes. I'm pretty prudish and sometimes I skip or skim sex scenes, but these were great because they were human. They were erotic and passionate, but they were also funny in just the right way. Celene getting self-conscious and chatting during the early stages of activity was so funny and so real, and oh, my, god, the bit with the pants, and the boots…you just have to read it.
The only reason I'm not going with an A grade is that I thought things got kinda campy towards the end. Everything is very gritty and complex and then suddenly we're in an animated superhero movie. Our Heroes storm the fortress, the Villain twirls his mustache (figuratively), there's a big fight, and Nils does something practical but ethically murky, that I thought was out of character for Nils. Mara would have done it in a second, and I wouldn't have blinked an eye, but for Boy Scout Nils to do it, and for him to do it with the approval (after the fact) of Girl Scout Celene, seemed out of character for them both. Otherwise the book was great and most readers would probably find that one bit to be satisfying as opposed to jarring.
I realize this is one of my shorter reviews, but I just don't have anything bad to say about the book! I recommend reading Collision Course first but it isn't necessary. You will lose a few nuances early on, but overall Chain Reaction works fine as a stand alone novel. It is definitely one of my new favorite reads, problems with the ending aside. What can I say? Archer had me at “NerdWorks” and everything got even better from there.
And now…bonus review! I just stumbled across the graphic novel The Clockwork Girl by Sean Reilly and Kevin Hanna, published by Arcana Studios in 2011. This is a simply gorgeous graphic novel. It is truly luminous – the pages almost glow. I considered giving it a stand-alone review but it's a story about friendship between two children (maybe young teens – their age is ambiguous) as opposed to a full-fledged romance. I would certainly call it a love story, but not necessarily a romantic love story. Still, this lovely tale of the Clockwork Girl and the Amazing Mutant Boy is a glorious combination of steampunk, fairy tale, Shakespeare, and mad science.
I will never think about pygmy marmosets, or parakeets, the same way again. The story made me laugh out loud, touched my heart, and left me with that nice happy ever after glow that I expect from a great love story, whether platonic or otherwise. Supposedly the book is being made into a movie but I can't find a current release date so I'm crossing my fingers that it does in fact get made and released. Meanwhile the graphic novel earns an A.