In the second book of Freemartin’s sci-fi Zodiac Mysteries series (The Cusp of Aries, 2013), a nightclub owner uncovers a class-based conspiracy.
In a world called Astrogea, inhabitants are tattooed at birth with their zodiac signs. These signs, as well as their elemental groups—earth, air, fire and water—dictate people’s looks, likes and dislikes, as well as their choices in friends and lovers. Cuspians born between signs have qualities of both, which makes purists uncomfortable. Although the law officially prohibits discrimination, a group called the Paragons advocates prejudice toward Cuspians and anyone else who doesn’t strictly follow his or her sign’s archetype. Jade Winter, a minor character in the previous book, takes center stage here as the Cuspian owner of an exclusive club that uses separate areas to cater to the tastes of each element. When she decides, just to be edgy, to encourage patrons to dress up as other signs and explore outside their elemental group, she finds that some Astrogeans will go to great lengths to keep the signs from interacting—even for fun. One of her employees, a Cuspian who attempted to pass as a pure air sign, is murdered, and Jade’s efforts to find her killer end up putting her and her friends in mortal danger. As tension between the signs begins to build in the run-up to Astrogea’s Winter Games, Jade finds that she can’t trust anyone other than her best friend, Iris, a fellow foundling from the Cuspian orphanage and a special envoy to the governmental League of Signs. This second installment engagingly takes the reader further into Astrogea’s political arena, shifting fluidly between the global unrest and Jade’s and her friends’ personal jeopardy. It’s also a darker story than the first, exposing the shady underbelly of Astrogea’s night life (“The lack of windows and the circular space gave you the feeling of being sealed in a time capsule, as if time stood still”). Although Jade isn’t always likable, she is relatable, and readers will root for her as she stumbles along the path to uncovering the Paragons’ sinister plans.
A rare sci-fi sequel that improves upon its strong predecessor.