narfna’s #CBR5 Review #69: Endgame by Ann Aguirre

endgameI’m not sure reading all six of these books back to back was such a great idea. I kind of got burnout and had a hard time finishing. But at the same time, I really liked what Aguirre ultimately did with this series. I thought Endgame was a great ending and really served to showcase just exactly what was important to her about Jax and Jax’s story. Jax herself tells us in the opening sentence, “This is not a love story,” so I’m not sure exactly how much clearer Aguirre could have made that.

Spoilers ahoy (probably shouldn’t read this unless you’ve already read the book).

This book wraps up the last and biggest of the dangling threads from the previous three books: Jax’s promise to help her friend Loras free his people from the genetic slavery they’ve been condemned to for the last century or so. It’s interesting the way that Aguirre has Jax recognize that a large part of her motivation comes from guilt — and the way other characters interact with her because of that — but also just because she knows it’s the right thing to do. Endgame takes us from the very beginnings of the revolution in La’Heng, with Jax covering their asses legally with the occupying government by submitting formal request after formal request for trials for their “cure” (which would end La’Heng dependence for good, essentially wiping out a planet-wide source of free labor for those used to taking advantage of it). And of course the current occupiers (the Nicuans) don’t want to give that power up, so they block her at every turn. From there, she and her group of friends build up the resistance piece by piece, and it’s to her credit that the whole thing reads as believable as it does. She also doesn’t give in to the temptation to have everything resolved in a short period of time. The span of this book covers years of story.

And then there’s Jax’s personal issues, which I thought were also handled very well. She kind of gets to have her cake and eat it, too. Due to events from previous books, Jax has a drastically expanded life expectancy, and she can certainly expect to outlive almost everyone she knows and loves, including her lover, March, who has accepted that fact and the two end up committing to each other for as he long as he lives. But once he goes, she’s got Vel to travel the universe with. I can see how some people might be discomfitted by this ending, but it worked for me. Overally, glad I picked this series up, and will definitely be checking out Aguirre’s other (many) books.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #66: Aftermath by Ann Aguirre

sr 5This series is definitely not the best thing I’ve ever read, but it is darn fun (especially if you like sci-fi and you’re a lady — it’s always refreshing to have a female lead in a sci-fi book, and it’s even better when they’re competently written). I was a bit worried at the start of this series that the romance would take over the plot, but I needn’t have worried. Love and romance is an integral part of Sirantha Jax’s story, but it’s also interconnected with her growth as a character, and in many ways, is only secondary to other choices she makes.

Aftermath picks up right after Killbox, with Jax having made a treasonous decision to act independently in the fight with the Morgut. Her rogue actions — resetting all the beacons that make interstellar jumps possible — prevent the majority of the Morgut fleet from reaching their destinations and beginning their colonization and destroying-all-humans objectives, possibly even stranding them in grimspace to die. But Jax’s unilateral actions have negative consequences as well. Acting without orders from her CO (who also happened to be her ex-lover, March), she prevented all-out war with the Morgut, but also killed 600 humans and temporarily destroyed interstellar travel. If she had been killed in the process, it would have been destroyed permanently, as she was the only one who could teach jumpers how to navigate the new beacons. Many view Jax as a hero, but many others (including those whose loved ones died as a result) wish her to pay for her crimes, and believe she was acting out of turn. Some even go so far as believing that she is holding the universe hostage by making herself the only person who can jump.

Jax’s situation is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the book, which not coincidentally was also pulled to use as a blurb on the back cover: “Dead heroes get monuments. Live ones get trials.”

My one major complaint really has nothing to do with the book itself, but that the back cover makes it seem like Jax’s trial is going to be the focus of the story. This led to me having all sorts of expectations that this was going to be Ann Aguirre’s version of a sci-fi legal thriller (since she’s already done her versions of military sci-fi and politicial sci-fi). In reality, the trial only takes about fifty pages, and then Jax is off on other adventures. As always, though, Aguirre doesn’t shy away from Jax experiencing the consequences of her actions. She is now infamous throughout the galaxy, and she has to live with what she did every day, not only in the way other people treat her, but in bearing the guilt of having killed hundreds of people (not to mention feeling guilty over the death of her two friends, Dr. Saul Solaith and his girlfriend (?) slash research partner, Evelyn (whom Jax had saved in the previous book and promised to protect). She also spends a significant portion of this book making amends for her past mistakes (ones she made in book one, so A+ on continuity). And as we near the end of the series, the question that looms not only in Jax’s head, but in ours, is this: Where does she go from here? Will she ride off into the sunset with March? Cause another disaster? Or will she finally give into temptation and let herself fade away into grimspace never to return?

I guess I’ll be finding out in about five minutes when I start Endgame. See you back here whenever I manage to finish.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #64: Killbox by Ann Aguirre

killboxKillbox picks up right after Doubleblind, Jax’s diplomatic mission to Ithiss-Tor having succeeded. The first thing she does? Quit. She’s had enough of diplomacy. It doesn’t take long for her and the rest of the crew to find other employment, though, as the Conglomerate wants to hire March as Commander of a potential Armada. Conglomerate power is weak after decades of control by Farwan Corporation and the crime syndicate headed up by Jax’s mom — aptly named The Syndicate — along with countless other renegade smugglers and criminals — are basically crippling anyone with expectations of safe space travel or living in colonies outside the main systems. The Conglomerate needs a peace-keeping, law-enforcement Armada, and they want March to build them one out of the exact same criminals and smugglers currently causing so much devastation.

The first half of the book is mostly logistics, gathering crew (which mostly involves March persuading old mercenary buddies to join them, and then press-ganging the rest), brainstorming, and putting together the framework for the Armada, and the second half follows Jax on the Triumph as they put the Armada into action, saving colonies and ships from smugglers and raiders and slavers, and of course, the Morgut, the alien race who end up being the main source of conflict in the story. The Morgut are making more and more encroachments on peaceful territory, and it’s the Armada’s responsibility as the only peacekeeping force in their part of the galaxy to try and stop them. It soon becomes clear, however, that the Morgut attacks so far have been merely a precursor to a largescale invasion. The Morgut, for unknown reasons, have decided to abandon their homeworld and colonize/eat the parts of the galaxy mostly occupied by humanoids. Jax is right on the front of this as one of the only humans who can understand Morgut language (thanks to the brain chip she got back in Doubleblind). She also happens to be the only person who has figured out how jump through grimspace without using beacons — she can jump from one place to another without any lag time, and it almost killed her the first time she tried it. Her life is a never-ending ball of fun.

For the most part, this book was pretty good. I just had a few issues with it that somewhat marred my enjoyment (it probably didn’t help that the last book was so much fun for me, there was almost no way this one wasn’t going to be at least slightly disappointing). My biggest complaint was the relationship between Jax and March, which previous to this had already been threatening to become an annoying back and forth thing. I thought they’d taken care of their shit last book, but apparently not, as March makes the boneheaded decision to break up with Jax for the entire duration of their time in the Armada, supposedly because he can’t give her special treatment and because he needs to emotionally separate himself from her for the sake of the job. This is stupid because: a) EVERYBODY ALREADY KNEW THEY WERE DATING BEFORE THE ARMADA EVEN STARTED AND NOBODY CARED, and 2) It’s very clear from what happens after that March didn’t save himself or Jax any heartache either, in fact their separation probably made them more miserable. The worst part of this is that not only does March make this decision for idiotic reasons, but the OTHER CHARACTERS ACTUALLY AGREE WITH HIM. It bugged me.

Jax herself continues to have great character growth, but her continued insistence that the nanites/chips and other experimental technology in her head makes her scary to other people are ineffective, because seriously, hello? Who wouldn’t want to have those special powers? They aren’t scared of you, Jax, they’re jealous. And secondly, because Aguirre gives us no proof that other people dislike Jax’s headware, just Jax telling us they do. The final thing that bugged me in this one is that Ramona up and sacrifices herself out of nowhere at the most crucial moment of the Morgut battle, and it plays out as extremely convenient. It would have played better if Aguirre had spent more time with Ramona and Jax’s relationship, but there was too much other stuff in the book for her to do that. Total deus ex machina. Other than that stuff, still enjoying this series, looking forward to the last two books.

And, hey, when are we going to learn March’s first name? It is bothering me so much that we don’t know. And neither does Jax! What! He’s put his penis inside of you, woman, and you supposedly love him more than anyone else in the galaxy. Learn his damn name.

[3.5 stars]

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #59: Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

doubleOkay, this book delivers on the promise I saw when I read Grimspace a couple of weeks ago. Wanderlust was kind of a mess, but I’m glad I stuck with this series, because Aguirre’s writing has improved by light-years just in the space of three books (I think at this point she had also starting writing one of her other series, so she was getting in A LOT of writing in a short period of time — practice makes perfect, and such). Unless this book is a fluke, of course, but I don’t think that’s likely.

Doubleblind (not sure why it’s called that, kinda driving me crazy), unlike Wanderlust and even Grimspace, has a tight, focused plot. Jax and her crew arrive at Ithiss Tor on a diplomatic mission, and if they don’t succeed, the human race is pretty much doomed. The Ithtorians are crucial in defending human civilization from the vicious aliens, the Morgut, who see humans as yummy snacks, but have historically feared the Ithtorians, whose blood is poison to them. Jax’s friendship with Ithorian outcast, Vel, makes her uniquely qualified among humans to negotiate the peace and bring the two races together as allies, but she’s got her work cut out for her, to say the least. The Ithtorians are isolationists in the extreme, having cut off contact with the rest of the universe 200 years before, and most of them are xenophobes. Jax has to not only navigate the tricky terrain of learning Ithtorian culture and how to be a diplomat (hint: no shooting), but she has to do it all without starting a galactic incident. All the while she has to deal with her lover, an extremely PTSD Marsh, whose trigger-happy presence could easily start said galactic incident.

I loved this book. Of course, I love these kinds of stories. Cultural differences, bridging gaps, conspiracies, aliens and spaceships, diplomacy, murder . . it’s good stuff. But this was also just a really good book. Having it set in one place did wonders for Aguirre’s writing, gave it purpose and focus, and she lent a bit of that to her characters. Jax has character growth up the wazoo, her relationship with Marsh in this is really good (if a bit intense), and her friendship with Vel is just great. And it was so much fun watching her navigate the tricky terrain of Ithtorian society, and yes, win the day. Really excited about reading the rest of the series now.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #58: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre

wanderlustI really liked the first book in the Sirantha Jax series. It was fun, breezy sci-fi with a female heroine. I had some issues with the writing, but it was so fun and new that I was easily able to ignore those issues and just enjoy the story. I guess the novelty’s worn off or something, though, because that wasn’t the case with Wanderlust. (Of course, my disenchantment with this book could also be that I wasn’t really in the mood to read it, but I had to because I had to get it back to the library ASAP before I owe them a million more dollars than I already do. It has been my experience in the past that reading books when you’re not in the mood for them can ruin the book for you, so take the rest of this review with a grain of salt.)

Wanderlust picks up a couple of weeks after Grimspace. Farwan Corporation is officially history, and the formerly politically neutered Conglomerate is looking to fill the power vacuum left behind. They name Sirantha Jax ambassador to Ithiss-Tor and charge her with opening negotiations to ally them with the Conglomerate. Jax doesn’t accept the assignment out of turn — she’s got to do things her way. But the book really has nothing do with the mission to Ithiss-Tor, because her and the crew never make it. They get sidelined by a seemingly endless parade of distractions, stowaways, alien attacks, and a trip to the worst planet in existence, Lachion. On top of all this, Jax’s health is declining and she has no idea why, and her relationship with March is on the rocks, mostly because she keeps freaking out and pushing him away. It’s incredibly frustrating.

The beginning and end of the book were pretty interesting, but the whole middle section was a slog. I hope these books never ever go back to Lachion, because if I have to hear Jax talk about Keri one more time I’m going to get violent. Keri as a character illustrates perfectly my problems with Aguirre’s style in this book. All we ever hear about Keri is her name, and what Jax thinks of her. I don’t actually have any fucking clue who Keri is as a character, so every time Jax starts bitching about her, I just get annoyed with Jax. It’s not great character work. Also, I don’t give a shit about the war between the clans on Lachion, and it’s the biggest setpiece in the book. The whole book feels kind of aimless, like Aguirre just started writing and then stopped because she figured it was a good place to rest in her story. I like my books to have a beginning, middle and end. An arc. This one didn’t. Hopefully the next four books won’t have this problem. And please, god, no more Keri.

I do, however, like Aguirre’s commitment to keeping Jax as fucked up emotionally as possible. It gives her somewhere to go. (Not a huge fan of the cover, either, especially as I like the ones for books 1,3, 5 and 6 so much. 4 is a dud, too.)