Friday, October 18, 2013

Assassin's Touch (Iron Portal #1) by Laurie London

Neyla never wanted to be a soldier – but when a terrorist attack brought out her latent psychic powers, she was quickly drummed into the army where they could be best used. It’s a miserable life and her fellow soldiers are no happier with her presence than she is with being there.

They’re called to track down an assassin from the Barrowlands and the portal through which he entered - a vital mission as news reports more devastating terrorist attacks slaughter the innocent.

Rickert has come through the portal from his home in the Barrowlands. The world is very different and he’s far from at home there, but he has to stop the Pacificans finding the portal – and launching another of their devastating raids against his homeland.

When the two meet, it becomes far more complex than they imagined.

This world has a fascinating concept – it’s a clearly parallel Earth but with stark differences from our own and only hints with some similar names to suggest the links. The world was split in two in some unnamed but often hinted on event in the past, leaving only portals as a way to get between the two realms – portals which have their own sets of rules.

One side of the world is a lot like ours, with advanced technology. The other hasn’t reached the industrial revolution, but has some intriguing powers of its own that make it very different. And the two worlds are in conflict – but both sides have very different versions of WHY they’re fighting, each presenting the other as the aggressor.

The main character, Neyla, has her own conflicts. Her life has been torn apart by enemy action which has brought her latent psychic power to the fore – she’s a protector, being able to shield people. This ends up with her being practically drafted into the army. She’s a reluctant soldier (she misses the clothes shop she owned) and the soldiers don’t like her much either – but she does have a life saving power and her father is proud of her. It’s complex with duty and misery working together.

Then there’s Rickert from the other side of the conflict and his own bad memories of atrocities inflicted on his people. Bring them together and there’s going to be some conflict there. As well as culture shock.

So we have a great story concept, a great world that has parallels to our own but also a great divide, a character who is at least not too annoying with some nice woo-woo that certainly could be developed. So do I have a but?

Yes I have a but. The “but” is the romance and the speed of said romance.

Not because of the very clichéd insta-love or near insta-love which has become an eternal thing in the genre – though I do find it irritating that these 2 enemies start noticing how very hot and sexy the other is. It was very blatant that the two were going to end up in bed from the very first meeting and didn’t even try to be subtle about it – from necessary nudity to endless appraisals of his sexiness (while being held as a prisoner of war by people she regards as savages, no less!) the romance started early and moved at lightening speeds.

But that’s somewhat par the course in far too many different shades of romance; super-insta-love-without-any-development is a staple. But there wasn’t even an attempt here – Rickert and Neyla’s insta-love was jump started with them having random visions of them having sex almost from the very moment they first met. Not only was is random visions of them both having sex, but it was gushy and loving and bound to produce a child – the couple had images of the HEA thrust on them before they even knew each other’s name. And why? No reason at all! Their supernatural powers don’t even include visions or seeing the future! It’s just there to force the story onwards towards the humping.

What further annoyed me in this book is how much of the rest of the plot had to be dragged along at ridiculous lightning speed because we had had had had to get these characters humping. Neyla is a prisoner of war. She is captured by a man – by an assassin – from an enemy she considers barbaric and cruel. An enemy whose terrorist attack against civilians caught her and pretty much ruined her life.

And how long does it take her to fall for him? How quickly does she believe his version of the war? Yes, he’s right – but she doesn’t know that! How does she not even begin to suspect that it may be some kind of attempt to confuse or turn her? Especially since she’s already acknowledged that she has a super special, highly in demand power. But nope, he says and she believes. It’s shocking how quickly she, a soldier, loses all loyalty for her homeland and jumps into the enemy camp all due to nothing more than the words of a hot guy.

Similarly, he’s breaking the law. He’s risking everything harbouring an enemy soldier in his lands. He’s introducing this soldier to friends and family without revealing who she is, potentially putting them all at risk. He doesn’t know she’s not deadly or plotting or a spy – but he is still willing to risk all for a woman he’s just met.

It doesn’t make sense. Neither of them make sense. And this could have been good – this could have been a good story of two enemies gradually seeing the humanity in each other. It could have been a story of illusions shattered, of Neyla slowly realising with burgeoning horror how she has been deceived and how she personally has been affected. It could have been a story of Neyla overcoming suspicion and integrating into her new society. All of this could have been done.

Instead we got “zomg you’re so hot and we have magical boning vision!”

Other than that, the writing was… pretty standard. It flowed but we had lots and lots of monologues and lots of angsty monologues and lots of monologues about how irresistibly sexy the other is. There are no GBLT characters. Rickert is described as “olive skinned” which could mean he is a POC but it’s vague enough that he might not be too. Neyla doesn’t work as a strong character for me – even with her epic show downs towards the end of the book. She spent so little energy in resisting capture, in standing up for herself in the army; she folded almost instantly and the only reason she didn’t give up information to Rickert is through her ignorance without technology, not her refusal to co-operate.

Despite all the fascinating elements of this book, it was all rushed through in a desperate effort to make the humping happen. There was little development, little nuance, little attempt to truly explore the world created or characters’ motivations and the story itself was badly damaged by a haste that made it quite unrealistic. And all of this in a novella – the author had the time and space to make a full novel and give the potential this story has chance to grow and flourish.