Friday, July 25, 2014

Memory Zero (Spook Squad #1) by Keri Arthur

Sam Ryan is a cop and, despite the rules, she’s investigating a crime – the disappearance of her partner. She finds him – but then nothing goes to plan, not least of which when she is suspected of killing him.

Suspected of murder and with some shadowy organisation apparently trying to kill her, all she can do is try to investigate with what little resources are available to her while dodging her attackers – but the only person she can work with is Gabriel, member of the Supernatural police and with his own very suspicious motives.

Things are confusing enough without changes within herself – and the mystery of her amnesia and the secrets contained in the missing years of her childhood.

There was a lot in this book.

We have a futuristic version of our world – with a lot of new technology that isn’t quite sci-fi level future but is certainly up there. We also have a world with the supernatural very much openly present, has been for some time and uneasily fits into normal, legal society. Which means we have laws and legal structures created around the supernatural to fit them into the real world. We have a large history complete with wars and tension between humanity and the supernaturals.

And that’s the world – a world that is detailed and broad with a large number of creatures, technology, magic and practices all worked in in a way that was believable and worked. It’s huge, it’s rich and it’s really fascinating. I think I especially like the slightly-future tech, we don’t have phasers and teleporters – we have technology I can see us having in the not too distant future and making it fit realistically rather than making it a mystical panacea, indistinguishable from the unexplained magic. Though at times I got a little lost and think I would have liked to have some of the points on how the law worked, how the supernatural creatures worked and how that related to the story. I also think the setting suffered, this book is set in Melbourne, Australia – but it felt very “any city, nowhereland”.

The relevant plot also involved vast conspiracies, historical societies, competing philosophies and further hidden agendas and nefarious characters. It’s complex, believable and really well done. But there’s also a lot that I wish had been clarified.

Then there’s Sam Ryan herself. She has a mysterious past, complete amnesia. She may have some unexplained woo-woo and this may or may not make her super desirable to both feuding organisations. However, so far, those powers don’t make her a special snow flake chosen one nor do they make her super powerful – and while they may make her desirable, that isn’t emphasised particularly in why she’s so embroiled in the plot. At very least, she’s not a passive actor, a gem to be claimed by either side- she actively investigates for her own reasons which are completely divorced from whatever special past or powers she has. She drives forwards into the plot – and she does so intelligently and with relative wisdom considering the extreme circumstances she’s in

Add to that complexity we have the fact no-one can trust anyone else. Gabriel working for his secret organisation may be following Sam around and protecting her – but he doesn’t know why the other org is after her or whether that makes her nefarious and because he’s not sharing secrets with her he can’t trust her to support him anyway. While she doesn’t know Gabriel well enough to trust him and does know Jack

Add to that we have at least 3 traitors, a splinter group, blackmail, old resentments and secret upon secret all mixed in with shapeshifters who can look like anyone and the very idea of trusting someone else seems like a rather comically ridiculous exercise.

All of this is told at a breakneck pace while Sam and Gabriel run around, try to learn about the various factions in play while escaping constant attempts on Sam’s life, trying to clear Sam’s name (because she’s been framed for the murder of her partner, which she actually did, but not quite and there were clones and vampires and odd bodies and shadowy monsters no-one’s even supposed to know about involved) and discover whether her oldest friend is good or bad or very very bad indeed.

So, the result of all this is that I should have been hopelessly lost. The sheer number of characters, the vast amount of information to assimilate and the break neck, frantic pacing mixed in with a lot of character suspicions of each other is a recipe for confusion. And, yes, there were moments, not so much of me being lost but having to take a second to remember who a person was or just wish desperately that they’d all just stop for 5 minutes and take a breath so I could absorb everything. But is that purposeful? After all, Sam has been plunged into a situation well beyond her depth, she is confused and lost, unable to trust anyone and probably pretty desperate to sit down for 5 minutes and assimilate everything. Which means that while I may get lost in moments, it’s all so well done and generally works to such a degree that I think those lost moments may be a stylistic choice of the author more than a flaw of the book. Which means the book has handled all of this vast information and pacing and complexities and made it work – not alwatys smoothly, but it works and still produces a very fun, fascinating book.

I also appreciate that the romance is not there – ok it is there in the “yes they probably will one day” but at the moment we don’t have two people meeting each other for the first time and the insta-attraction nuking everything else in the story until there is only relationship issues. That was my concern, having read the Nikki and Arthur series and the Damask Circle.

Apart from anything else, there was no room at all for a romance plot here. No no, there was not.

What there also wasn’t were much in the way of marginalised people – not LGBT people and I can only remember a couple of POC in relatively minor roles – and this cast is huge. There are dozens of characters, some more minorities were definitely needed

There were women beyond Sam, but, again, in somewhat backseat roles, lesser roles in Gabriel’s organisation, love interest of Jack and Gabriel’s brother – not the major actors. Though I did appreciate a point one character made (begin the spoiler dancing) about her betrayal – because they wave around how long they’d been together and how much they’re trust her and she threw back how little she was brought into the loop and fully informed. How can they be so outraged that she betrayed her trust when they treated her with so little trust? Unfortunately that very good point is overwhelmed by a much stronger unrequited love motive.

This book is excellent, but tiring. Excellent because the plot is exciting, the characters compelling, the world fascinating and the whole thing starts at a sprint and doesn’t let up until the very end. It rides the very edge of collapsing under the weight of all that’s going on in this book, all the amazing things that have been crammed in – but manages to juuuust pull back from the brink.