Publisher: Ace, 2008
Genre: Science fiction
Sub-genre: Space opera
Rating: 4 pints of blood
I managed to get my grubby little paws on an advance copy of Wanderlust, which has caused me to perform the official dance of joy because I adored the first book in the series, Grimspace. For anyone who hasn't read Grimspace yet, this review is likely to contain spoilers because, well, it's the sequel.
First things first: the cover art. I'm kind of impressed, actually. It has a similar look to the Grimspace cover, letting readers know the two are related, and it's so very very shiny. The whole thing has a distinctly science fiction-y feel, and the cover artist has even taken into account Jax's newly shorn hair and the shockstick she carries around. The effect is both appropriate and appealing, and for once I think I might have to applaud the marketing department. Good work, guys.
Having publicly proved the evil manipulations of the Corp, Jax and crew have been held by the Conglomerate for intensive questioning. Separated from the others for days, Jax has no idea how March or Dina are doing or what's going on outside of the constant interrogation. By the time they're finally allowed to see each other, the Corp is finished, and for the first time, Jax finds herself having to think about money. The Conglomerate has an offer for her: they want to make her an Ambassador and send her on a dangerous journey to Ithiss-Tor, a planet of shape-shifting "bugs" to bring them into the Conglomerate. Jax is uniquely qualified for the job because of her friendship with Vel, a bounty hunter and "bug" who's willing to accompany her to his homeworld.
Jax takes a day to discuss the options with March and Dina, but they all know there aren't many choices, not with the power vacuum created by the Corp's destruction. Before they can make their decision, Jax's estranged mother, Ramona, shows up to say Jax's father is dead and she's endebted to the Syndicate, who will kill her if they can't manipulate or make a profit from her. Ramona hasn't come to beg for money, though; what the Syndicate wants is for Jax to take the position as Ambassador, but to screw up her duties and ensure Ithiss-Tor will never join the Conglomerate.
Jax isn't crazy about her mother, but she doesn't want to see her die, either. To complicate matters, someone blows up the speeder she and March use to return to base (presumably trying to prevent her from taking the gig as Ambassador at all), and Jax is suffering from a mysterious illness that's keeping her prone to injury and slow to heal.
Jax takes the position as Ambassador, and Vel joins the crew. A couple of March's mercenary buddies tag along to get a lift off planet, complicating matters when one of them goes into labour. They also run into a spaceport taken over by Morguts (who love nothing more than to trap and eat humans), inadvertently escalate a war on the home planet of March's mentor, and find themselves unable to stay out of the Syndicate's clutches. Worst of all, Jax is afraid she may be losing March, the one person who can keep her sane and ensure she keeps wanting to live another day.
When I reviewed Grimspace, I mentioned that Jax is made of forty-two different kinds of awesome. Well, ok, I didn't put it in those words, but it was true then, and it's true now. The voice is really what makes this series so addictive; I don't sink blissfully into the pages, I'm yanked in forcefully.
Wanderlust is a little slower-paced than its predecessor, more introspective and less with the non-stop action. It's a little episodic, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. There's a lot going on, plot-wise, and the slower pace keeps it from growing overwhelming. Even when she's thinking or worrying, Jax is intense and urgent, and the characters she's surrounded with make any situation interesting.
Speaking of characters, there was a really nice mix of familiar faces and new personalities. Dina, the unapologetically homosexual mechanic who refuses to pull her punches is back and as much fun as ever. I really dig Vel, the enigmatic and uber-skilled alien, and am hoping to get a little more into his character in the next book. Jael is an interesting new character, and for fear of going all spoiler-ific on you, I won't say what makes him stand out, but I have to wonder what Aguirre has planned for him, all things considered.
Readers who pick up Wanderlust without having read the first book will have no problems following the story, although they might wonder about March and his relationship with Jax. The two have some issues here, and anyone who hasn't witnessed them getting together in the first place might have issues with the romantic portions of this book.
Wanderlust is clearly the beginning of a much larger story arc, and since Aguirre is contracted for two more books in the Jax series, I'm eager to see where the story goes from here. I think it's pretty clear I've been thoroughly enjoying these books, and right now my only gripe is that now I'll have to wait a full year to see what happens next.