Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Devil's Due (Red Letter Days #2) by Rachel Caine

Lucia and Jazz have finally succeeded in getting Ben, Jazz’s old partner, out of jail where he has been wrongfully imprisoned and his life threatened for years. It’s a difficult time to celebrate though, as the death threat still looms over Jazz, confining her to the office.

But the battle between the two psychic organisations – the Cross Society and the Eidolon Corporation – is heating up and getting ever more deadly, even their office is no safe haven. And, as can be expected from organisations that can see the future, their plotting is convoluted, long term, confusing and very complex; and nearly impossible to protect against

It also seems that their pasts were more affected by these organisations than they ever imagined – and that their supposed allies are much more ruthless and much more callous than they previously thought, begging the question whether they’re truly on the good guy’s side here. Or if there are any good guys at all

The last book made me turn on my brain and pay attention as the late appearing mystical elements of the story added a whole new level of complexity – the duelling psychics constantly trying to shift tiny events to have a massive effect on major events, the whole concept of different people having massive different influences on the time line. Then there were our two main character’s attempt to negotiate this and do what’s best with forces determined to play “end justifies the means” long term planning that may sacrifice many people in the name of the greater good.

This book not only continues that but plunges us in ever deeper with a much stronger challenge of the ethics of the whole seeing the future. Lucia and Jazz are increasingly trying to distance themselves from or at least question the actions of the Cross Society and Eidolon both as they’re struggling over the idea of who to trust. There’s a lot of moral quandary here, a lot of struggling to figure out exactly what would be the best thing to do all more complicated by the two men in their lives – Ben and James – having very strong and very rigid opinions of the Cross society as well. I like how the disagreement is handled in a mature fashion, there’s no big dramatic ultimatums, no screaming matches, just a mutual wish to work it out coupled with a firm insistence that none of them cross their red lines they’ve set up.

So, in many ways this continues the fascination of the first book - it has a fascinating world, an excellent concept and a well paced story with lots of really well done action, sensible behaviour and interesting mystery as Lucia tries to navigate her way round the complications of the Cross society’s planning, Eidolon’s plotting and several mine fields from her past.

And I do love the characters – because they all behave like reasonable adults. They take risks, but they’re reasonable ones. They are intelligent and capable without being super powered, they have excellent inter-personal interactions, they have some great banter, they have worries and fears and can be a bit lost, but they generally hold up well throughout the story. I like them and think they work extremely well together. I also really like that Lucia, the protagonist, is not only Latina but she’s Latina with a sense of culture and language, rather than it being a passing label to be ignored. I will say, though, that at times we have vast swathes of the book go by without a hint and then a sudden remembrance of her Spanish which is a tad inconsistent, but only a tad.

Now for the bits I think didn’t follow so well from the last book, unfortunately. Firstly, there’s a lot of flailing in the beginning of this book. They have their moral questions but are still willing to follow the red envelopes. Ben has been released from prison but they don’t really work on that, he’s just kind of released and shunted into the background – I don’t think he spends more than 10 minutes with Jazz who has been passionately fighting for his release for so long. Then there’s the death threats and lots of panicked flailing around until more plot elements walk up and tap them on the shoulder to get their attention. There’s just a bit of flailing in the first part of the book before it finds its traction.

I can’t say I’m especially sold on Lucia and Ben’s relationship – the attraction at first sight I am fine with since it is presented as sexual attraction and not love, but while there are major, epic things happening in this book (like anthrax infections), I found it a little something of a distraction from the main plot. Death threats now, libido later.

But, to me, the main step down for this book was Lucia and Jazz. In Devil’s Bargain these 2 were excellent, awesome characters who worked together amazingly, had strengths and weaknesses that complimented each other wonderfully and were just a brilliant, funny, friendly team. I was looking forward to seeing Jazz through Lucia’s eyes since we’ve already seen Lucia through Jazz’s. Instead, Jazz spends most of this book on the shelf and Lucia either works alone or with Ben (for more of that sexual tension). It’s not that it’s not still a good story, it is – but Jazz and Lucia together were what made this good story a great story.

There are still no GBLT characters in this book, though there was a distinctly unpleasant reference to how amazingly hot Lucia was that she could even attract men who were “latently gay.” That’s 2 snarky side references with no inclusion. In addition to Lucia, we also have some good racial commentary with Omar, he works in private security but has found it ever harder to get work due to growing prejudice against Arabs; he often makes wry and cutting jokes about the racism he’s faced.

The counter is some terrible class statements, with Lucia hiding in a poor neighbourhood and basically running through every stereotype possible. There were also some difficult scenes with domestic violence and forced impregnation that were treated as truly horrific as they were – they were depicted and they were condemned. But in the case of the latter, I think one of the participants was given far too much benefit of the doubt.

I liked this book – I think it also ended on an amazing twist that has completely blown the series wide open again so I have no idea what’s coming next. It still has the great world and good characters that make it a good series. Do I sound a little… restrained in my praise? Well, the problem is Devil’s Bargain wasn’t a good book – it was an awesome, excellent, amazing book. And Devil’s Due is just a good book. I mean, it is a good book, certainly a good book, a book I enjoyed. But I was hoping for a lot more; I had high expectations that haven’t been met.