Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Penumbra (Spook Squad #3) by Keri Arthur

Sam has finally snapped over working with Gabriel. His insistence of keeping her out of all police work is too much – she needs to work and be effective. She gets a transfer – to a new case as a bodyguard of a politician. A politician who is really a clone and probably working with either the suspicious military scientists at Hopeworth or the sinister secret organisation of Sethanon… or maybe both

Of course, both Hopeworth and Sethanon are extremely interested in Sam and her unique biology – and Stephen may be using her as bait, much to Gabriel’s annoyance

But this is a chance for Sam to finally find some answers – as to what she is, what she wants and why she can’t remember her past. To her that is worth the risk.

This book finally brings together a whole lot of what has been brewing in the last two – Sethanon, Sam’s past, what Sam is, Hopeworth and their experimentation, Joshua who haunts her dreams and the mysterious Joe who has been dropping clues in a very frustrating fashion for so long. At last answers are in the offing.

It’s at the end of a long book of twists and turns, of endless questions and possibilities and with a plot line involving clones to throw up it’s own questions. If I have one criticism about the plotting of the book it’s that, while the overarching questions of the whole series are addressed, the actual plot line of this particular novel is left hanging and confusing. But I think that is a tie in for the next stage in the mystery – Sam’s personal mysteries have finally been addressed, now it’s time to tackle a big overarching plot.

I’m impressed by the writing of this book. We had a huge number of events all kind of smooshed together into something resembling a storyline if you connected the dots – and it worked. Most of the book was questions and new threads and a new plot and it felt like a dozen things in different directions – and it worked. It didn’t get (too) confusing, it maintained a good pacing, there was never a point where I wanted to put the book down: I wanted to know, all the questions it kept bombarding me with and I still wanted to know.

And at the end there are still a lot of unanswered questions as to exactly what the master plan is, what the big antagonist actually hopes to achieve, to say nothing of all the clones, Hopeworth and so much else that has been lurking around. But while there’s a lot of mystery that still badly needs to be uncovered, but we’re now in a position where the mystery has been narrowed down. There’s a lot of conflict potential still, but we’re not overwhelmed with questions any more – we have answers, a direction to move in and a whole lot more to explore; but it is an exploration not a random flail.

There is still one element of this otherwise excellent series that really reduces the enjoyment for me – the romance. It’s not that romance wouldn’t be appropriate, it’s just how convoluted it is. Gabriel has decided, for ridiculously convoluted and superstitious reasons, that he cannot possibly have another work partner. It’s even lampooned how ridiculous his logic is. Because of that he continually freezes Sam out, makes no attempt to use her talents, and generally treats her appallingly and grossly unprofessionally. Sam can’t come close to doing her job, he is actively sabotaging their work and their mission because of his unreasonable hang up.

That would be bad enough, but this then gets twisted into the romance. Sam is angry about being frozen out – so she continually tries to seduce Gabriel. And he pushes away and she pushes back –not saying “hey I’m a professional, the way you’re treating me is terrible” but saying “I know there’s something between us that you’re denying!” and in between are Gabriel’s relatives randomly dropping by the matchmake.

Aaaargh, I am so very tired of the “I need to treat you like shit to drive you away to protect you” trope – especially when it is based on such a dubious reason. I am also tired of this being mixed with being UNABLE to maintain his arseholery so we have mixed signals. I also dislike Sam continuing to take it and still coming back AND her repeated insistence on romance between them even when he expressly states he is not interested. The whole thing is a toxic stew of unnecessary in what is otherwise an excellent book.

There’s also a severe problem with absence of minorities in this book – no POC, no LGBT people. The only disabled person is an old nurse of Sam’s with dementia – but it’s not a character trait or development, it’s another way to make the knowledge she knows inaccessible. This old nurse, Gabriel’s briefly appearing match-making sister and an even more briefly appearing female agent also make up the full extent of the women besides Sam in the book. It’s not a lot.

I also think a lot needed to be analysed about the way the SIU worked – they examine supernatural crimes, but they often talk about having no limits, in past books this seemed to include torture. This is just taken as a given by the characters in the book and there’s no attempt to analyse or question this.

I do have to note that this series is unfinished –yet no more books are coming either. I have to say I find that… a little frustrating because in many ways this book was the beginning of a whole new arc, questions were answered and we’re all set to plough ahead into a new and exciting future: which isn’t going to happen. My frustration and disappointment over this is probably a great indication of the quality of this book, the series and the general plot line – I want this series to continue.