fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Ann Aguirre 2. Wanderlust 3. DoubleblindDoubleblind by Ann Aguirre

Of all the books I’ve been looking forward to this year, Doubleblind was pretty high up on the list. When we last left our heroine, Jax, she was in the orbit of Ithiss-Tor, preparing for a diplomatic mission with high stakes: Recruit the distant but formidable Ithtorians to the human cause. Fail, and the human race gets eaten by the Morgut. If they’re lucky. But the Ithtorians aren’t very fond of the idea and Jax’s job is to change their minds. She also has to deal with March, whose head is pretty much screwed six ways to Sunday thanks to the war on Lachion in Wanderlust.

I’ve generally enjoyed this series a lot. Ann Aguirre writes well (though her style can take some getting used to at first); the books are well plotted and paced; and the romance doesn’t overwhelm the sci-fi. And on some of those accounts, Doubleblind wasn’t an exception. It might have been short on action, but that was necessary for the story being told.

Hold your nose, folks — here comes the cold water. I had Issues with Doubleblind. Some were big, most were relatively small, but in the end it all became one big wobbly Jenga tower. And you know what happens when the Jenga tower gets wobbly. That’s right, it topples over and crashes, generally eliciting a groan from whoever was last to take a block from the stack. Reading Doubleblind made me feel a bit like that person.

I’ve never minded (and have even enjoyed) the romance in the JAX books, despite the melodrama. Unfortunately, it consumes something like half or more of the book this time, often completely shoving the diplomatic mission out of Jax’s mind. She spends a lot of time thinking about how to “fix” March and how broken he is and how haunted he is, etc. etc. I told myself to just relax, and for a while there I wasn’t minding it so much. But I’m not sure how I feel about things like March trying to strangle Jax in his sleep, post-traumatic stress or no. That’s just not kosher, right there. And while Jax working to make progress with him is pretty powerful, her rather sudden “fix” of him feels too pat and therefore cheap. And honestly, I can’t help feeling (in that cynical part of my cranky black soul) that the entire war on Lachion was contrived to add more melodrama and angst to the relationship between Jax and March.

I hate to have to make this particular pun, but Jax’s attitudes towards the Ithtorians Just Bugs Me. Her ‘voice’ is derisive from the get-go, referring to the Ithtorians as Bugs, which she (and thus the readers) knows is considered derogatory. I would think she would at least start with some respect towards them, considering that her close friend Vel is an Ithtorian. In fact, overall I don’t care much for the way Ann Aguirre represents an alien culture here. The Ithtorians are ambitious and ruthless; they don’t care about actual truth and justice; anyone different is considered unstable and sent to a cruel life in the mines. Odder still, this attitude is greatly at odds with the environment they choose: Generally beautiful architecture and lots of plant life, and a special bow called a wa, which can apparently be used to communicate entire lines of flowery poetry.

The peripheral characters, outside of Vel and Doc, are alarmingly absent. They’re there, as such, but their actual presence is rare. And a few of the times they are present, they’re still only scenery, with no actual speaking lines. That’s a shame. Jael, Hit, and Dina are fascinating characters, with back stories rife with plot material. I wouldn’t have minded a little more time on them, a bit less on The Jax and March Show.

Speaking of characters (this is where I’m about to get semi-spoilery, just a heads up) one of the things that I often find frustrating about first person books in the tendency towards character assassination. You know: You see a character only through the MC’s point of view and then something happens that is completely and utterly counter to everything you know about said character. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say “Oh, but you only ever saw them through so-and-so’s eyes” but sorry, I don’t buy that. So when one of the secondary characters does a face-heel-turn, I don’t believe it. I’ve got an answer in my head for why it looks like this character betrayed Jax but why in fact they really didn’t — only they did.

I’m left sort of scratching my head. Why? Why didn’t we see any signs of this? Even Jax herself can only come up with one “hint” that she should have seen. That’s not satisfactory to me. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Carol Berg (who has an unnerving knack for making you, the reader, feel as if you have in fact been betrayed by this character yourself) but to me it’s a sign of poor writing. It’s jarring and far too pat, and feels like Ann Aguirre didn’t have a clue herself what would happen until she wrote it. Perhaps if the secondary characters weren’t MIA for some ninety percent of the book it could have been handled more smoothly, but there you have it.

I had myriad little problems with Doubleblind as well. I was a few steps ahead of Jax for most of the book (except where I couldn’t be due to my logic just not bending that way) and couldn’t help wondering what was taking her so long. There’s some inconsistencies as well — I’m pretty sure when Jax first meets Vel, she thinks of him as a “Slider” and is creeped out by the Ithtorian ability to look like anyone, even your best friend; but in Doubleblind this is suddenly a learned ability (being able to appear as human) and one only Vel knows. Which is unfortunate because it could have provided a rather awesome plot twist here instead of the confusing turn of events we got.

Because I tend to mull a book over before reviewing it, Doubleblind has taken some hits in retrospect. The more my mind wandered through it, the more I stepped in plot holes. But I did mostly enjoy reading it at the time. And really, no one is perfect. Doubleblind might be a bit of a let down but I remain confident in Aguirre’s ability to write a well-balanced story of action, adventure, and romance.

Sirantha Jax — (Began in 2008) Romantic science fiction. Sirantha Jax had the Midas touch. She and her pilot could do no wrong until the incident on the Sargasso. She’s the only one who could say what went wrong, but she doesn’t remember. Or doesn’t want to. Now she’s sitting on Perlas Station, waiting for the other shoe to drop. If dream therapy doesn’t kill her, the Corp will, and after losing everything but her mind in the crash, she isn’t sure she cares. Until the man in the suit strolls into her cell…

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  • Beth Johnson Sonderby (guest)

    BETH JOHNSON, one of our guest reviewers, discovered fantasy books at age nine, when a love of horses spurred her to pick up Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns. Beth lives in Sweden with her husband. She writes short stories and has been working on a novel.

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