My favorite line in Anna Jarzab’s Tandem came toward the end, and it was the Bond Villain-esque Big Bad who said it: “I don’t need the love of the people; I have nuclear weapons.” It got a guffaw out of me the first time I read it, and it’s still making me snicker now. It’s just so wonderfully over-the-top and hilarious, and I can imagine someone like Ralph Fiennes or Jason Isaacs using it in a particularly scenery-chewing role.
Unfortunately, that’s the most positive thing I have to say about Tandem, so if A) you read it and loved it, B) you’re planning on reading it and want to keep an open mind, or C) you suspect it’ll be a good fit for you, you might want to skip the rest of this column. Then again, based on the premise—and especially my love of parallel universe stories—I thought that I was firmly in category C, so it’s possible that my experience might be a good barometer for you.
So, the premise. High schooler Sasha gets asked to prom by Grant, the Big Man on Campus, whom she’s always had a bit of a crush on, though she’s never actually talked to him. They have a great time, she feels like she’s falling for him, and then, after some time on a romantically moonlit beach, he gives her a bracelet. Just as he puts it on her, he apologizes.
She wakes up in another world. Turns out that she’s an analog, basically physically identical to a girl in this world…who happens to be a princess. And Grant, of course, isn’t Grant. He’s Thomas, Grant’s analog, and he’s a military operative in this world. Sasha has been kidnapped because the REAL princess was kidnapped, and due to the ongoing precarious political situation, the government needs a double to keep people from panicking while they search for her.
In terms of voice, Sasha is very prone to similes along the lines of “The sadness that always accompanied thoughts of my parents clanged like a bell in my heart….” and “Images that my tired brain threw off like light from a dying sparkler.” Now, although I personally find that sort of thing somewhat tiresome and overwrought, I could have given Sasha (and Jarzab) a pass… except that the third-person narrator that follows Thomas has a tendency toward exactly the same thing, as in “...his blood had run cold, as if a splinter of ice had become lodged in his heart” and “...like a drizzle of freezing rain down his spine.” Beyond that, much of the prose is stiff, and there’s seemingly endless expository dialogue—especially from Thomas, who eventually became “Mr. Exposition” in my notes—that goes far beyond simple worldbuilding: it ranges from explaining where Loyola is to defining the word “regent.”
Also, the romance is problematic. First of all, it’s a captive/captor relationship, which is always particularly dicey—but CAN be effective (see Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke for a great example)—and in this case, because of the personalities involved and the specifics of the situation, I just never bought it as viable. I didn’t feel it, I didn’t believe in it and I certainly didn’t root for it. As I’m pretty sure I’ve said before, it’s REALLY hard to root for star-crossed love when the hero is a toolbox.
I could go on—I have pages and pages of notes—but I’ll spare you: Suffice to say that for this reader, Tandem was a 428-page long exercise in frustration.
Except for that one line. Which really was so awesome and unexpected that it almost made the whole thing worthwhile.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.