Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: Ill Wind by Rachel Caine, Book 1 of the Weather Warden Series

Joanne is a Weather Warden. A Warden gifted in the elements of Water and Air, who has the solemn duty to protect humanity from Mother Nature’s devastating wrath. But one mission to dissipate a terrible storm enmeshes her in plots beyond her measure.

She’s now on the run, with a demon mark, no less, and with the entire organisation of the Wardens hunting her for murder. A crime for which they could kill her or strip her of her powers. And if they find the demon within her, then it’s a near certainty that she will have her powers ripped away.

Her only chance is to get rid of the demon – but there are so few ways to do that. The easiest would be to pass it on to a Djinn – and curse the Djinn to live the rest of eternity in torment – not a fate she can contemplate, especially after meeting Djinn. Or there is Lewis, an old friend, a rebel and the most powerful Warden the world has ever seen.

But she has no idea who she can trust, very few friends and she is hunted not just by the Wardens, but also by a vast storm she conjured accidentally while fighting for her life – that now follows her relentlessly. And then there’s someone else, some enemy who continually strikes at her. To say nothing of Djinn that pop in and out – and who knows who they serve or what agenda they follow?

The world is rich and huge and novel. The different Wardens acting to protect humanity from the vagaries of Mother Nature is such an unusual concept. Throw in the Demons and the Djinn and we have something fascinating that actually took an effort of will for me not to reach instantly for book 2 the minute book 1 was finished, I wanted to know much more so soon. Storywise I’m impressed. We have a combination of survival and mystery with an extra side-order of mystery. The main mystery of what Joanne’s doing and how she will save herself and who is to blame – or even if there is someone to blame-  is huge and fascinating and constantly kept me guessing – and I guessed wrong every time. Yet the clues were there – but I never remotely imagined the results. But we have so many other mysteries along the way – who is David, who is Rahel serving and constantly what what what is happening!

We also had what I normally consider a contrived plot line. We start with secondly – Joanne on the run from something. And we don’t know the why and wherefore of that something for a while, adding to the mystery. But it works because it allows the full mystery to be complicated without us having to be infodumped vast amounts of world building so we can understand it. Without this method, I suspect this would be the second book in the series and the first book would be slow, meandering and just full of infodumping to set up this book. So, I’m impressed, a literary trick I normally loathed was used to good, nay, brilliant effect.

The world is doled out in nicely sized chunks through nice little vignettes that give us flash backs into Joanne’s past – and they fit and are interesting rather than a distraction. The various forces arrayed against Joanne happened often enough to keep the book exciting without it being too much of a survival horror that the mystery was lost. And the character interactions were fun, real and very human.

If I had one criticism of the world and the story it’s that Rachel Caine has clearly done an amazing amount of research into meteorology. She really knows what’s she’s talking about and has done some serious study of the science of weather. I, alas, have not. The weather is something that happens (preferably to other people) on the other side of a well-insulated house and double glazed window. As such the science didn’t exactly lose me, but it was perhaps over worded and described in unnecessary detail.

The romance in this book was hurried. We went from strangers to true love in a few very short days… but I’m not especially bothered by it. I’m not sure why, I think it’s partly because the characters don’t spend all their time mooning after each other and partly because the story doesn’t rest too much on their love. It also helps that we don’t have utterly ridiculous decisions made by Joanne based on that love. Sure, she could get rid of the demon mark and save her life, but it doesn’t take true love to prevent you wanting to save your own life by condemning someone else to an eternity of torture. The decisions they make based on their love could just as easily have been made out of guilt, compassion or just basic human decency.

So they fall in love quickly, but they don’t break the story or my suspension of disbelief in doing so. It works in this story without the story resting on top of it.

I actually really liked Joanne. And I’m going to say she doesn’t show Spunky Agency. I know, I know, not all of her decisions are brilliant decisions, not by any stretch. But none of her decisions are ridiculous in the face of what she is going through, the time she has got make them and the stress and conditions she is under. She’s powerful and, while she doesn’t acknowledge the full extent of that power, she does acknowledge a lot of it and is quite happy to make it clear now and then that she can really ruin her day if she chose it. She’s unabashedly sexual and is happy to own and explore her sexuality on her terms. And I loved her love of cars, it was a fun quirk.

Inclusionwise, alas, I feel this book falls down. We had no GBLT characters at all. And while we had POC, 1, a Black woman is a servant and the other, a Latina woman… is not ideal in a way I won’t mention because I don’t want to spoil the book.  It could have been much better on this front

All in all, I really liked this book, it was pretty new, had some very interesting concepts, some characters I love and a plot line that both kept me guessing and kept me fascinated, writing that managed to make even tropes I dislike seem appealing and cleverly used. It’s got a great world, some great foundations and an exciting story – can’t wait to read the second book