Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dying by the Hour (Jesse Sullivan #2) by Kory M Shrum

Jesse is now very high profile as a Necronite and Death Replacement Agent – which means she’s also a target for a lot of hatred, especially from the United Church.

But more dangerous than the constant hatred attacks she faces is the dark conspiracy that comes from her own long hidden father that shadows the church’s actions. That conspiracy is still active – people are disappearing, probably dying and Jesse and Alice have to find them… though what they will do and what they will risk to do it may be far too great.

This book continues several of the elements I loved about the first book – the world setting is excellent, the whole concept of Necronites is one I want to really delve into. The whole idea of “death replacement” as a profession is original and something I love to see – I would actually like to see a lot more of it.

The ongoing conflict with the church is also a nice angle – with a combination of grand conspiracy theories from shadowy leaders as well as on the ground prejudice from fanatical members, both willing to pursue their own hatreds and follow orders. I like the extra conflict that comes from what Death Replacement agents can actually do – the choice between hatred and life is very clear. I also think the growing conspiracy and shadowy motive behind the church helps put things like the unification in a more understandable light since there is clearly something guiding their hand behind the scenes. The depiction of prejudice is good and we’re getting some history into the previous military detention and experiment on necronites (which, in turn, provides more motivation for other dubious characters in the book) – but there is some definite appropriation of LGBT issues and comparisons being made which is all the more shady as the Necronites gain new abilities.

Our protagonist is Jesse who is rather flailing in all of this – but in a somewhat good way. In some ways she seems to be trying to pursue a somewhat ordinary life – as much as possible. A lot of that isn’t willing because people are keeping her in the dark (including Brinkley and Alice). I like Jesse, she has a snarky viewpoint, is very over her depth and definitely afraid of what’s happening around her even as she becomes inured about the constant hatred and prejudice she faces. It’s also great to see a bisexual protagonist. She and Alice have an interesting relationship, full of conflict and distance because of Jesse being with Lane and each side trying to protect the other which comes with a lot of work and worry and secrets. I find it interesting in how that in turn relates to Alice’s relationship with Nikki and Jesse with Lane – they’re both with “love interests” who are more casual, who they have less invested in, who isn’t so high stress. I think that could do to be developed more since it is a valid concern and something that would make an important point on their relationships - that for all Alice and Jesse are passionate about each other, they have no fun and it’s all torn with guilt and responsibility and duty. It needed developing.

As it is that leaves Alice being an extremely competent, skilled, intelligent character – and a Lesbian as well – who is excellent to follow; but she also feels a little creepily obsessed with Jesse to a rather unhealthy degree – and Nikki is orbiting Alice on the sidelines in a kind of unhealthy “one day you’ll love me!” kind of way. I do like that it’s clear Nikki knows Alice’s feelings and she isn’t being exploited, but I’m waiting for everything to messily come apart.

We have some decent POC representation as well, Gloria the AMD (psychic) is one of the pinnacle of her profession and we’re getting some strong hints of more of her backstory and involvement, along with her military training and general fierce competence, laid over with vulnerability due to disabilities inflicted on her

We have other minor POC roles – including one of the enemy and Kirk, Jesse’s preferred mortician (morticians have a much more involved role in Necronite lives).

But there’s a problem – and it’s a similar one that I had with the last book; there’s too much going in and it’s too distracted leaving me a little lost and frustrated far too often during the book. For the most part, I get a feeling of hollowness – things happening without any real explanation or depth behind them. I think there is depth there and there’s certainly depth planned for the future – but at the moment things are happening I don’t understand, people are doing things that I either don’t understand or aren’t invested enough to care about and there’s a whole lot of woo-woo happening that hasn’t been properly explained

Not least of which is the whole concept of the “partis” and these strange powers some Necronites have which is linked to the angel hallucinations (or not) which turns out to be a major plot element that underpins most of the meta-plot… but I still don’t have much in the way of answers as to what this actually is or means. I have a lot of questions and no answers and it’s getting a little frustrating. But I could probably deal with that but not so well with the other mysteries in the book – like what Jesse’s mentor Brinkley is actually doing on all his solo missions. Or who Alice’s new gang actually are, what their goals are and how they came about – because they were just dropped into the story from nowhere with their own (vaguely explained) agenda and Alice is trusting them – I guess I’m supposed to do the same but I don’t know enough to do so. Especially since the most notable thing we see Jeremiah’s team do in this book is kidnap and torture a woman – something that is presented as necessary.

This sudden introduction also doesn’t help with Alice’s relationship with Nikki. I feel like I blinked and Nikki suddenly appeared and now she’s playing desperate love interest while Alice still pines after Jesse. I feel almost like I skipped a book and missed a lot of exposition

Speaking of love interests – we have Lane. I don’t know why we have Lane. He’s very attractive, but he’s whiny, inclined towards tantrums and forces emotional pouting at the most inopportune times.

One thing that is clear – perhaps unfortunately – is the motivation of the bad guy. The chief antagonist of this series seems to be pretty simple in both his motivation and power (both woo-woo and political). In some ways, against all the questions elsewhere, there’s just too few questions around him – and he’s become directly involved very early in the series which has left me wondering why he’s holding back. His motives are plain, his power immense… so I’m not sure why he’s doing what he’s doing and the way he’s doing it – it feels too proxy, too removed and I don’t know why.

I want to love this series. It has a bisexual protagonist, it has a fascinating world setting, it has some excellent, original ideas and it’s written with lots of action, a nice balance of description to events and at least a couple of characters I can really get behind. But the book needs to slow down and explains things a little more – stop trying to rush headlong into the epic confrontation and take the time to explore the world, the setting and the characters that have been so excellently produced.