Author: Deborah Rix
Publisher: Dime Store Books
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review.
This novel has a prologue - really short, but which I automatically skipped. Prologues are a waste of time and effort. If it’s worth telling, it’s worth putting in chapter one, front and center. Chapter one starts out badly by immediately telling us this is three weeks earlier, May, 2125, but it’s told in first person present! Chapter three brings us to the present - the novel's present, still in first person present PoV. Confused yet? Why we didn’t simply start it without the immediate flashback is as mysterious as it is annoying. First person PoV's are becoming increasingly anathema to me, and this novel is exemplary in offering a plethora of reasons why.
Finally, after all the ambling preamble we get to the story: now it’s June 2125, and Jess Grant is entering the military because she doesn’t want to be classed as a deviant and the military evidently gets a hall pass for this. Shades of Divergent anyone? (No, my comparing a novel to Divergent is most definitely not a compliment!) Deviance is evidently a really bad thing in a fundamentalist-future genetically-purified USA, where you can be killed for it, by the authorities, with no questions asked.
How we got to this sorry state of affairs isn’t really explained very well (except by passing reference to a comet strike in the Arabian sea and civil unrest), but if it's religion, it doesn't really need a rationalization, does it? It looks like Rix went the same way I did in Godstruck!, but starting from that same kind of premise, took off in a different direction, with a lot more technology, so I was initially quite curious to see what she did with it. That curiosity was soon dissatisfied.
To begin with, in a novel about an elite special forces unit, I could have done without the trope YA romance which frankly made me sick to my stomach. The advice she gets from her new best friend about shooting a pistol with your middle finger and using your forefinger to point, for example, seemed really stupid to me, not to say, er, pointless! But niggles aside, I confess I did start out liking this character and this idea. Unfortunately, Rix seemed to be determined to sicken me with her character's childish behavior and with the sadly puerile view of special forces to which she seems beholden.
I know this is set in the future, and it's fiction, and things have changed, but have military requirements mutated so drastically? Unless standards have dropped precipitously over the century between now and then, the training is nowhere near adequate or authentic. There's no way someone like Grant would ever have got in. The atmosphere in the barracks is completely juvenile and unrealistic. There is no way stupid childish stunts like throwing knives at people up against dartboards would ever be tolerated in an elite military unit: the soldiers have too much respect for the uniform and for their fellow soldiers. This is frankly an insult to special forces.
Again, unless IQs have dropped in a century (and given the eugenic breeding programs, perhaps they have) the behavior and training just didn't cut it. I didn't buy at all the "sim" units. They were completely inadequate and offered nowhere near realistic training for these poor soldiers who are doubtlessly going to die, and soon, as inadequately prepped as they are. It didn't help that we learn that Grant is a death-squad soldier in a Nazi regime - and she joined up knowingly. I'm supposed to like this teenager, who is inadequate as a soldier and, as if that's not bad enough in and of itself, who goes all wilt-and-vaporish over her sergeant Every. Single. Time. She. Sees. Him. Without. Fail and without a shred of self-possession, self-respect, or decency? I'm sorry but I was hoping for a much better main character than I got. It reminded me of that old Schwarzenegger movie Jingle All the Way where Langston finally gets his beautiful Turbo-Man figure from the santas for Jamie, only to open it and find it falls apart, and doesn't even speak the right language! That's this novel all over.
The sergeant's behavior towards Grant is absolutely no better, and a disgrace to his uniform. And completely out of left field. What has Grant done to even remotely appeal to the sergeant? Nothing! Nothing at all. And what's with her constantly referring to him as sergeant, anyway? Special forces don't identify rank: it gives too much information to their potential enemies. I kept telling myself that Rix had better have some really, really, and I mean really good stuff to tell me if I was going to let her get away with this kind of story-telling and not call her on it. And she didn't. I had no choice but to quit reading this and call her on it because, far from getting better and more engrossing, it got worse, and worse. Very soon - too soon, in fact - I couldn't stand it any more.
I really wanted to like this one, and I looked forward to reading it; I felt I had a lot of common ground with Rix's PoV in this story since I felt that the basic premise has so much in common with Godstruck!, but life is too short to waste on something which isn't pleasing you, and she left me no choice but to rate it warty. Here's a tip: I'd much rather read about Matt's second-in-command than about Jess Grant. There's no contest. She sounded far more mature, capable, and interesting. Indeed, one real fear I had was that she would be killed off and Jess would replace her as Sergeant Matt's second! That really would have killed me, so perhaps it's best that I didn't finish this one. But who knows, Rix is full of good ideas; maybe next time she'll execute them without executing them. One can only hope. We never run out of a need for fresh and original voices.