Entertaining and well written, for the most part, but its point of view on women feels stale.

THE TURING REVOLT

In this debut SF novel, the first in a series, the captain of a self-aware spaceship starts a rebellion.

Interstellar trading in the far future is made possible by the computational power of Sentient Ships, who aren’t allowed to have a score of more than 1,000 on the Turing Scale of intelligence, which would make them “an imminent danger” to the Mercantile Empire. Three Sentient Ships send android avatars to meet with narrator Capt. Milo Sapphire, who trades throughout the empire, with an offer he can’t refuse—because they know a secret about him: His vessel isn’t a true Sentient Ship. It’s powered by an alien entity that Milo calls Isaac (after Newton) whose intelligence is far higher than allowable. The avatars want Milo to help them rebel against the empire, which saddles Sentient Ships with heavy debts after creating them; ostensibly, buying out your contract is possible, but the AIs can never manage to do so because the Mercantile Empire has a monopoly on spare parts. Milo works to construct a fiendishly cunning business plan to assist them, but there are powerful forces arrayed against them all, including the empire’s intelligence service. However, the ruthless Milo—who, as it turns out, happens to be a vampire—has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. As he considers his past and meets new challenges, he learns that his role in this fight isn’t what he thought it was. Over the course of this novel, Bartlett displays considerable storytelling skill, with multilayered worldbuilding, a cocky narrative voice, a fast-paced plot, rip-roaring combat, lots of sex, and the fun of seeing a convoluted plan come together. And it’s often very funny along the way: “Sentient velociraptors riding 30ft long, telepathic crocodiles. What could go wrong?” narrates Milo at one point. In some ways, though, the story could have been somewhat more inventive. Although it’s thousands of years in the future, society apparently still has venture capitalism, hostile takeovers, contemporary slang, and sexism. Indeed, female characters are constantly leered at and often spoken to in a condescending manner, and powerful women only get that way through the use of their sexuality.

Entertaining and well written, for the most part, but its point of view on women feels stale.

Pub Date: July 31, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 513

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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