Wednesday, March 21, 2012

B is for (independent) Book Review: Nails Jane by Trista Guiseppe

I encountered Trista Guiseppe on the Google+ social networking site shortly after the completion of her first novel. Following it the first of what I expect to be three short book-reviews in the a-to-z month. Look for more reviews at "G" and "L".

In her debut novel, Nails Jane, Trista Guiseppe gives us an action-packed blend of new space opera, weird-tale, and philosophical meditation. Even if her reach sometimes exceeds her grasp (which it does), and the disparate pieces don't fit together perfectly (which they don't), it's still an entertaining, fast-paced read.

It opens as the story of Eva, a woman in present-day realistic Earth with a job she hates, a troubled marriage, and enigmatic dreams hinting of another world beyond this one and another identity. When she is approached by a mysterious stranger with apparently supernatural powers and more knowledge about her than he should reasonably posess, it feels like well-tread familiar ground. Then the narrative breaks into the first part of a counterfactual secret history regarding a malign entity which has been manipulating the human race for the purpose of keeping us from fulfilling our potential and becoming a threat. There's a strong anti-religion message in much of this,  but the work embraces the supernatural in a way that makes it far more than - and far different from -  a rationalist screed.

The book then dances from military SF to fable and back again in a dizzying series of tonal shifts. We meet  Ati, an apparent doppleganger of Eva. We briefly learn of - but see little of - aliens. We're told myths of a creator of worlds and his battles with a destructive beast, of a Death figure who shirked his duties, of archetypical artists and scuptures. Some of these stories don't all fit thematically with the rest of the novel, and can sometimes feel like an author's attempt to clarify a philosophical point. Others - most notably the segments with death - tie into the rest of the work beautifuly in a blending of science and fantasy vaguely reminiscent of Elizabeth Bear's All the Windwracked Stars.

 There's a paramilitary organization dedicated to fighting the threat of Versinon, a world-spanning evil. There are conflicts with powerful beings capable of destroying worlds, encounters with gods or creatures close to it, and a final conflict in which there are challenges, threats, sacrifices. I very much enjoyed the ride, but at the end felt that there was something missing. THe world-destroying evil? Really a greate evil. Those military commanders who seemed to be treasonous or corrupt? Really treasonous or corrupt. Great speculative literature is perhaps better than anything at turning your world upside-down, at telling you that everything you thought you knew was wrong. Think of moments in Dan Simmons' Hyperion series when we first see the world from the perspective of the Ousters or we learn what this faster-than-light travel really costs. In a much smaller way, there's a moment in Mary Robinette Kowal's forthcoming Without a Summer in which the point-of-view character's entire perception of someone - a perception which the reader likely took for granted - is wrong. Here we don't get any of that; yes, there are philosophical trimmings, but they end up being window-dressing in a story which, for all of its scope and grandeur is surprisingly linear and simple.

So, I'll give this three out of five stars with a recommendation to pick it up for some light, enjoyable reading in hopes that Guiseppe's next effort will take us just a little bit deeper.

 Tomorrow we'll stay with books and bring you C for Characters, then move back to pixels with D for digital.