Saturday, April 10, 2021

Beta Bots by Ava Lock

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book represented a prime reason why I do not like series. I loved Alpha Bots - the first in this series - and quickly I glommed onto the sequel thinking it would be as much fun as the original was, but the sorry truth is that it was the polar opposite, and I DNF'd it due to the complete lack of humor and the appalling violence which hit hard and was totally unnecessary, and it came right up front. It was such a contrast to what I'd experienced in the first volume that it felt like a whole different story. I quickly decided that this was not for me. I guess I should have known that a series titled "The Womanoid Diaries" couldn't be good - not all the way through.

In the words of Chrissie Hynde, who was no pretender: don't get me wrong! One of the reasons I dislike series is that they're essentially cookie-cutter repeats of the original, which often is merely a prologue. I don't do prologues. Where is a series to go? It's the same characters often facing the same issues and it's boring, and it's lazy writing.

I like very few series and the ones I tend to like are ones that maintain a freshness throughout: enough of what I liked in volume one to keep my interest, but a different sort of story. Very few writers can nail that consistently. Thus you might think I'd go for this sequel here because it is so different from the original, but for me it was too different and not in any good way.

Yes, there was violence in the first volume too, but the story eased into it and it felt natural in the context of the fiction: the victims were 'deserving' and main character Cookie was completely adorable throughout - even heroic. I did not like her one bit in this second volume. She was a different person altogether. I decided I did not want to read any more about someone who had essentially changed from being an original, engrossing, assertive, and fun character, and morphed into a psychotic serial murder. No thanks.

The writing seemed lacking, too. It didn't have the same 'oomph' in this volume. It felt tired and clichéd and had lost its sparkle. One thing I noticed just in my relatively short read was this: "With Tabitha's knife in hand, I hid in his blind spot and waited on the gunnel for him." The author doesn't seem to grasp that the gunwale (pronounced 'gunnel') isn't the deck - it's the part of the ship's hull that surrounds the deck - the part that the passengers traditionally lean on when the ship is departing and they're waving to those on the dock. If Cookie were standing on the gunwale she'd be particularly visible, not hiding! It's not a story killer, but that wasn't the problem.

The violence in the second volume was not remotely defensible, not even in the context of this fiction. So what if these were Russian SWAT team? That makes them acceptable victims of the Mansonian violence that Cookie perpetrates, none of which was actually necessary? Cookie had been quite happily avoiding surveillance under the river, but somehow, I guess, these people had tracked her. How, I do not know, but instead of simply going back underwater and avoiding them, Cookie decides to single-handedly take out the entire squad. And not to dinner.

Where she hoped to go with that approach, I don't know. What - these were the only police in the entire city of Moscow and after she kills them she's scot-free?! It felt like the author was trying to emulate a male writer instead of being herself as she was in volume one. There's a reason I read more female writers than male and for me, this author undermined that reason with this writing. Being a strong female character doesn't mean you're a hard-bitten man with tits. I'm sorry for those who've been misinformed on this score, but it doesn't.

The other problem with this 'opening scene' was Cookie's sexual attraction to the lone woman on the boat that she eventually climbed onto, out of the river. It felt predatory - like badly-written male-authored exploitation novel. Cookie is supposedly pining for the fact that her one true love, Wayne, from the first novel, has been taken prisoner. She's mentally tired and down, and is now facing the threat posed by the encroaching SWAT team, yet Cookie is thinking only of how hot the 'chick' on the boat looks. No. Just no.

And what about that with Wayne being captured? Cookie abandoned him! Yes, he told her to go, but is Cookie no longer a strong, independent character? Has she no agency? Can she no longer make her own tactical decisions like she did in volume one? Is she now enslaved to Wayne like she had been to 'Normie' at the beginning of the original novel? This approach cheapens and demeans her. It's a backward step that undermines everything she achieved in the first volume.

The macho slant in this novel made for truly unattractive, unnecessary, and sadly unpleasant reading and seemed to me to betray the whole raison d'ĂȘtre of the first novel. It turned me right off Cookie and by extension, the story she was telling, and I couldn't bring myself to even finish that one part, let alone read further. I can't commend this based on what I read, because it's the very antithesis of what I expected and not in any good way.