Friday, August 29, 2014

Generation 18 (Spook Squad #2) by Keri Arthur

Sam is not finding it easy being Gabriel’s partner – because he’s determined to drive her away with grunt work and side lining her from anything resembling a real case. She’s toughing it out, but she isn’t happy

But even he can’t keep her in the background when two series of murders come to light – both of them involving high level and highly secretive military experimentation; their former victims, their former test subjects and their former scientists are all definitely being targeted. But by who and what remains unknown…

Who is doing the killing, what secrets are being hidden – and how much does this relate to Sam’s own mysterious beginnings?

I’m not a big fan of one of the central conflicts in the book. Gabriel has had two previous partners, one of which he was romantically involved with. Because of the whole “these things come in threes” thing, Gabriel has decided he never ever wants another partner and resents having Sam forced on him. For added conflict he is very attracted to her (which is more of a conflict than a much better one – that Sam and him are actually very effective together) which means he’s even more convinced that there will be DOOM in the future. She responds to his constant rejection by… trying to seduce him. The whole thing just feels really convoluted and forced because there’s some unknown need to force some kind of relationship conflict in there (and it is CONFLICT, it couldn’t be them both falling for each other, there has to be this highly dubious reasons why it simply cannot be) and it makes me want to find the biggest book of professional ethics in the world and throw it at them.

Especially since this book does not need extra complexity because this book is full! The main plot has 2 or 3 entirely different investigations all twined together in immense complexity – we have the murder of scientists, the murder of test subjects, we have secret nefarious projects with Penumbra and Generation 18 and new unknown monsters and a vast and complicated conspiracy with a squillion and one different characters with different involvements. It’s a glorious conspiracy, it’s a magnificent conspiracy with so many names that it’s hard to keep track of and schemes within schemes and you don’t know who needs protecting or who needs killing or exactly what is happening and there are red herrings and twists and it’s wonderful and complex and I got completely lost. Completely and utterly lost. And it was excellent – I loved it. Did I often not know what was happening? Did the many people confuse me? Did the plots twist in and out that I had trouble unravelling? Yes to all – and it worked because it should be like this. It should be confusing, we’re dealing with an epic and secret conspiracy that has last decades and involved some incredibly nefarious abuses of power and people – and it is firmly connected to the great uber-mystery of the series – just who and what is Samantha.

But there is another element which fell flatter for me. The whole mystery of who and what Sam is, the unknown answers to her missing memory and all that is fascinating. I love her slow realisation she isn’t human, developing powers she shouldn’t have that defy everything they know – that’s excellent. Less so is her seeming hostility to learning answers mixed with eagerness for them. I can see why that would be, I can see how she would be conflicted, curious yet afraid of what she might learn – but it isn’t really conveyed that well. Still, the worst part of the whole discovering herself storyline is mysterious guy who drops in every now and then to say mysterious things and then runs off again. I hate this trope I really do, a mysterious figure drooping in to leave actual knowledge before disappearing would be annoying and feel slightly like a convoluted way of pushing the plot forward. But a mysterious figure who shows up and only throws around cryptic puzzles before leaving? Aaargh, I’d be tempted to carry something heavy so I can bludgeon him on sight the next time he appears.

The world building continues to be rich and involved, like the extra details into the health problems shapeshifters face –or the constant little reminders of the futuristic technology and how it effects policing; it’s little touches like that that point to a fully developed world. I really do love this world, even if the characters were gone I’d want to see more stories in this setting. I didn’t like a scene, though, where we had rather casual, normalised use of torture without any real examination of that. It didn’t help that it was pretty much gratuitous, there was no reason for it to be there, it didn’t add anything to the plot, it didn’t even make the police force seem particularly morally grey because no-one else in the story considered it to be grey. In fact, it was only after a re-read through all the euphemism that it was clear that it was torture

I have another minor complaint about the characters continually running off into obvious traps that are obvious without taking proper precautions. And, no, thinking over and over “this is a trap, this is so a trap, I shouldn’t be doing this, it’s a trap” does not count as a precaution.

When it comes to marginalised people, the book doesn’t do great either. Samantha is a great female character, even if she is becoming overly romantically fixated on Gabriel. But she is the only main female character in the story – and we even have a horrible jealousy moment where she hates a woman on sight for being friendly with Gabriel. A good female character – but needs some other women around her who aren’t murder victims, bit parts or evil.

We have, to my memory, one very minor POC character. We have a murder victim who was implied to be gay, a villain who was implied may be trans – neither of which confirmed – and we had a murder victim who was definitely a lesbian. Victim, possible victim, possible villain… this is not good inclusion, not good at all.

This book had some inclusion issues but other than that has an excellent world and a truly excellent conspiracy story which would be an excellent read – but then there’s these random extras plastered on the side that I don’t think the book needs; they’re not great and they’re a distraction besides.