robertliguoriwritesstuff

Clean Sweep: Not the target audience, definitely not a fan.

To be clear, I don’t think that this is a bad book. It just fails to pass through a few critical gates that a book (or media of any kind, really) need to make it through to get a second glance from me.

In theory, this could be called hybrid sci-fi/urban fantasy, but in honesty, it’s straight urban fantasy, which just uses Space Technology!! as a kind of technobabble, and doesn’t do anything with its other planets that Dresden’s Nevernever doesn’t do. And that’s Gate One faceplanted into. Magic and science are different. To invoke magic is to reify a high-level concept into the rules of the universe, as an absolute thing. And that’s fine! That’s perfectly acceptable within the story. Take bargains, for instance. There’s a lot of stories about magic bargains. The stories about the devil out to buy your soul from you make the concept of a bargain an absolute thing.

But what if it wasn’t? What if there was just some devil-shaped alien who could do technobabble tricks if they got you to sign something? Well, then you’re in the realm of technology. And technology improves. You’d expect those aliens to jump straight to mass-marketing, click-through Faustian EULAs, or simply skirting the level of whatever coercion isn’t allowed and making up for it in volume, with people opposing them looking for similar story-breaking ways to cheese their way out of their own bargains. Technology is fundamentally different from magic.

Anyway, technology is where it’s at. Vampires and werewolves exist; they’re aliens and alien genetically-engineered super-soldiers. We get one of each, who of course square off and have a sexy ab-off at our heroine for most of our book, when they’re not engaging in witty banter and apparently-supposed-to-be-clever repartee with said heroine.

And here’s where he hit Gate 2 hard. This book makes me feel like the author(s) have genuinely never imagined how people in honor-based cultures where you might have to draw down and kill people to protect your good name (lest you be shamed and killed in turn). The book wants us to believe that there’s Tension! between Wiry Muscular Male Lead and Brawny Muscular Male Lead, that both are live wires who might erupt into violence at any moment. But they sure don’t act like it. They both treat each other (and the protagonist treats them) with less caution and respect than you’d grant strangers on a gun range. There’s no narrative treatment of anyone as actually, genuinely dangerous.

This leads into a kind of sub-gate that makes me not put books down, but only because if I did, I’d barely read anything. The book reflects as unexamined truth that social dominance is always and forever equal to physical (and/or technomagical) dominance. Winning an argument means you win the fight that follows the argument, always. There’s a duel in the book at one point that’s glossed over, because we know that the good monster has Righteousness on his side and has publicly accused the Bad Monster of great dishonorable cheatery and thus cannot possibly lose, and of course couldn’t get bushwhacked by further dishonorable cheatery in the duel itself.

Now, there is a lot to like here. We get a good variety of monster-aliens and alien vistas. Character motivations (when not swept up into the Black Hole Of Wanting To Bone The Protagonist) are fairly sensible, and aside from the stupid-ass posturing, most of the actions characters take make sense within that they know when they choose to take the actions. The Female Gaze stuff looks like it’s doing its job, as far as I can tell. So if you ever read the Anita Blake books and thought “I want more of these, but with sci-fi instead of magic and more of a PG rating.”, this appears to be the series for you. (And it is very reasonably priced, if this does sound appealing and if the gates I describe aren’t hard stops for you.) But for all that I did like the new perspective on werewolves and vampires and witches, oh my, I’m not interested enough to keep reading.

Now, if someone makes an RPG sourcebook out of this universe, then we might be in business…

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