Publisher: Ace, 2009
Genre: Science fiction
Sub-genre: Space opera
Rating: 4 1/2 pints of blood
I've been impatiently waiting for this book for about a year, so it doesn't really matter what the cover looks like. I would have glommed it anyway. That being said, the artist depictions of Jax have always managed to hit just the right combination of strong and vulnerable, and that shockstick is just made of win. What's up with the green and pink flowers, though? Jax is not a flowers sort of girl.
Doubleblind is the third installment in the Jax books, following Grimspace and Wanderlust. Which means we're dealing with the standard "review within a series" scenario: if you haven't read the previous two books, here there be spoilers. If, however, you've glommed the first two and are waiting impatiently for Doubleblind to release, you're safe. I give out no plot twists.
Incidently, this is the first review of Doubleblind you'll find on the internet, or anywhere for that matter. Go ahead, dig in! It's tasty.
When last we saw the saga of Jax, she had agreed to act as Ambassador to the Ithtorians ("bugs") with the assistance of Vel the bounty hunter. If she can't convince the Ithtorians to join with the Conglomerate, humankind will be crushed by the ever-increasing attacks of the Morgut, vicious killers with a fondness for human flesh. Jax is possibly the least diplomatic ambassador ever, but considering what's at stake, she's determined to do everything in her power to make this work. Which would be a lot easier if the Ithtorians didn't think of humans as a stupid, violent, and inferior race.
Meanwhile, her lover March has returned from war broken beyond what Jax knows to deal with. An empath surrounded by so much bloodshed, he's come back cold and detached, having necessarily cut off his sympathy and psi abilities to handle the violence of the war. Now he has the memories of having cared about Jax, but none of the accompanying emotions, and he's suffering from post-war trauma. Jax has always relied on March's strength to get her through tough situations, but now he has nothing to give her and couldn't care less about it. She's determined to find the man she loves and haul him out of the cold shell he's buried in, but first she'll have to figure out how to go about it.
Every time I review one of these books, I go on and on about the narration style and Jax as protagonist. There's a reason for that: both are phenomenal. As the series progresses, we get to watch Jax grow and change, but shades of her former, more selfish self poke through often enough to highlight how difficult the progression is for her. She's still a wonderful combination of tough but broken, and her voice is inarguably what makes this series so addictive to me. The first person perspective is urgent and powerful, and I'm pretty sure if Jax were telling me in great detail about her efforts doing the laundry, I would be fascinated. The voice and narration style just suck me in at page one and don't let go until I've finished the book, at which point I turn the page, realize there's no more writing, and glare at the back cover for awhile, sulking that I don't have the next installment right now.
Readers intrigued by Vel or Jael will have lots to appreciate in Doubleblind, which delves a little deeper into both gentlemen. (If, by the way, anyone finds a Vel around, please send him my way. I'm up for adopting one.) Some of the secrets hinted at in previous books are explored, and Vel in particular becomes an increasingly major presence in Jax's life.
The book isn't as action-packed as its predecessors, but since Jax is currently acting as a diplomat, that's probably a good thing. The pace doesn't suffer for the lack of fight scenes, though, and since the character driven nature of the books has always been primarily what's drawn me to them, I was just as delighted to read about their political and social struggles as see them get into a knife fight. Since Jax is pretty far out of her element here, it's a lot of fun to watch the inner struggle as well as the political outer conflict. It's more personal in a lot of ways, and I felt like I'd run through the emotional gamut every bit as much as the characters had by the time I'd finished the book, which in my mind is the mark of effective storytelling.
And now for the million dollar question: does the book hold up to Wanderlust? Is it as good as its predecessor? Actually, it's not. It's even better. How is this possible? Well, you'd better get yourself pre-ordering to find out!
Doubleblind will be released in September and is available for pre-order in paperback.