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May 2, 2015

Review – Seeing Red (Ambassador #1) by Patty Jansen

I haven’t actually formally signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015, but I am still trying to include as many Australian writers in my reading diet as possible. To that end I’m going to try to review at least one Australian writer (or editor/anthologist) a month in 2015 (yes, yes, I’m behind on that), keeping an eye on the gender balance as I go. To start with, here’s what I thought about the first volume of Patty Jansen’s Ambassador series of SF diplomacy.

***

Seeing Red is the first volume of Patty Jansen’s Ambassador series, featuring Cory Wilson, Earth’s brash neophyte representative to an alien coalition called the gamra. About equal parts science fiction mystery and conspiracy thriller, with romance and social commentary subplots thrown in for good measure, Seeing Red is a delicious meal.

On the eve of his appointment as the ambassador of Nations of Earth to the alien gamra, an explosive assassination attempt propels Cory Wilson from Earth to the alien city of Barresh where he must prevent an interstellar war, solve a murder and figure out which of several alien factions is behind it all. Wilson is behind the eight-ball almost the whole time: separated from his alien partner and his fiance, his resources cut off by a suspicious Earth, and caught between the interests of bickering alien governments.

Wilson’s a fun character – overconfident and arrogant, but resourceful and more dedicated to his job than anyone around seems to give him credit for. But the real entertainment value of Seeing Red comes from his navigation of the complicated politics of gamra, the alien organisation that runs the star-travel network known as the Exchange. Gamra is like a cross between Dune’s monopolistic Spacing Guild and a United Nations Security Council where everyone is expecting war to break out. By comparison, Nation of Earth is also like the UN, except that it occasionally behaves with the sophistication of an unruly local council Chamber of Commerce.

There are a few nice action set-pieces keeping the debates and conspiracy-hunting from slowing things down, and the linked central mysteries are well-constructed and satisfying. I found the ultimate villain of the piece was not too difficult to identify, but saying that there are plenty of surprises to be had. In terms of Wilson’s very complicated romantic life, I felt he was sometimes a bit improbably dense or in borderline-cruel denial, but it resolved well and I certainly never felt it got in the way of the intrigue or the shooting.

Seeing Red is an excellent thriller, with what seemed to me to be solid science underpinning the intrigue and action. I’m planning to read the sequels.

June 14, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – Fire & Ice by Patty Jansen

Filed under: books of 2013,books read,women writers challenge 2013 — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 6:43 pm

This is not so much a review as a response to Patty Jansen‘s Fire & Ice: Icefire Trilogy #1 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. This is my fifth review for 2013. At the time of writing, this novel is available as a free ebook from SmashwordsAmazon  and Kobo. (Edit: Oops, correction, not free at Kobo). As the name implies, it’s the first volume in a trilogy.

The first part of what promises to be an exciting epic fantasy, most of the elements of Fire & Ice work very well – fascinating magic with some truly weird qualities, an arctic (or at least very cold) setting, political intrigue, fantastic beasts (mainly giant riding eagles, bears under harness and sea lions) and protagonists with a variety of relatable agendas.

Mostly Fire & Ice worked for me, but I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I might for a couple of reasons. While most of the women in the story – in particular the long-suffering midwife and the adolescent queen – were intriguing and appealing, the men were almost all either terrible, stupid or desperately broken. I’ll deal with my problems with the guys below the cut, as there are some spoilers involved. (Also: trigger warning for discussion of rape).

Aside from the elements that put me off, this is a good story – a political potboiler in the process of colliding headlong with a magical apocalypse, told through the eyes of a (somewhat ill-prepared) revolutionary, a captive queen and a couple of naive young Knights with dark secrets. The pieces crash together in exciting ways, and the situation escalates nicely toward an explosive climax. That said, nothing is resolved by the end – it’s undoubtedly the first part of a series, though in itself that’s by no means a complaint.

But I had a few problems with Fire & Ice that dragged it down for me. I enjoyed the prose and characterisation, so I’ll definitely be looking out for more of Jansen’s work, but I’m not sure I’ll necessarily go back to this particular series.

(Some character spoilers below. Also: major trigger warning)

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