Things start getting a little crazy this episode. What started as a leisurely stroll around the sewers turns into a terrifying escape from a really persistent monster who just doesn’t understand the word no or the word ‘AHHHHHHHHH!’
A few weeks ago I reviewed one of my favorite sci-fi romance books, Grimspace by Ann Aguirre. It features a sarcastic protagonist named Sirantha Jax, a woman with the J-gene who is able to jump ships through grimspace (like hyperspace). She’s framed and imprisoned after her entire crew — including the love of her life — is killed and her ship destroyed, but a ragtag group frees her and helps her uncover a conspiracy. And she falls in love with one of them, too.
I’ve lately been reading the second book in the series, Wanderlust — and I like it even more than the first. Jax is named ambassador and sent to Ithiss-Tor to recruit the planet to the Conglomerate. But before she even gets to Ithiss-Tor, she goes through hell in more dangerous places.
Instead of a traditional review, here is a list of what I love about this book:
1. My Favorite Badass Protagonist, Sirantha Jax: Jax is one of my favorite protagonists ever. Sure, the writing can sometimes be over-the-top sarcastic and all over the place, but that’s just what the inside of Jax’s brain must be like. Wanderlust is written from her perspective, so we spend a lot of time in there.
What I love most is hearing her think about how much she’s changed from her younger self. She’s in her 30’s, scarred — literally — and is no longer “one of the best-dressed women in the tier worlds.” Her glamorous life has evolved into something richer and possibly more twisted, but she’s come to embrace that… even if she does sometimes have to remind herself not to be self-conscious about her scars, because “guys dig them,” after all.
She’s also a jumper to the core, and that means embracing some danger. Jumping is addicting, and in Wanderlust, she learns that every jump is eating away at her, causing her to lose strength. She’s becoming frail, and she may not be able to jack in and jump anymore. Others are noticing the change in her, too; even March hits that sore spot when he says, “Your fire’s gone out. You used to feel like a live wire, Jax.” It’s heartbreaking for her.
2. The Flawed Romance: The romance in Wanderlust focuses a lot on Jax feeling torn between memories of her late love, Kai, and her new love, March. She even has a recurring dream about it:
“I’m in a white room, no furniture, but there are two exits. Kai stands before one door and March stands before the other. I’m caught in the middle, and I have to choose. I know this is a bullshit crazy-ass thing because I’ll never have to pick. Kai is gone… I’m happy with March… But the dream still wakes me up in a cold sweat.”
There’s also a handsome young mercenary named Jael who acts as Jax’s bodyguard — and he’s just the kind of guy she would have gone for a few years ago.
Jax is also worried about her disease and frailty, so she pushes March away to protect him. This is a bigger deal than you’d think, because March is Psi (psychic) and able to read her thoughts and communicate with her that way. When she pushes him away, he stops entering her mind, leaving her feeling more alone than she expected. And when things get dangerous, she worries about his safety when he’s not around or in her head.
I also have to say that March has grown on me as a character. I wasn’t crazy about him in Grimspace, because he didn’t do or say much. But I love the way he is characterized in Wanderlust. He’s not the most handsome guy around — in fact, he “looks mean as a black-tailed rattler,” according to Jax — but he’s been through tough times, and he gets Jax, and she gets him. Even the sex scenes spend time focusing on their physical scars. It’s a very offbeat relationship that shows the two of them embracing each other, flaws and all.
3. The Alien Bounty Hunter: Velith Il-Nok is rapidly becoming my favorite character in this series. He’s a bounty hunter from Ithiss-Tor, first encountered at the end of Grimspace. When he learns about Jax being framed, he switches gears from taking her down to saving her. I loved that.
He’s also a shapeshifter who is able to take human form when he wants. (Otherwise, he kind of looks like a giant praying mantis, and he has mandibles and stuff.) He can seem a tad serious and scientific — sort of Spock-like — but he also has a dry sense of humor that Jax likes. As a hacker, he can crack codes faster than anyone Jax has ever seen, “like he can hear machines on a level that we can’t.” He plays bait (and survives) to save Jax and the rest of the crew. Although he is formal and hard to read, he tries to comfort Jax during her emotionally difficult times, and she appreciates the attempt.
I love science fiction with aliens anyway, and it just so happens that Vel is the type I’d want to meet in real life.
4. Vivid Locations and Emotional Action: Aguirre must have fun envisioning the settings in these books, and action abounds. You have a snowy planet (very Noveria-ish, in my mind) with a run-down bar and bad neighborhoods. Then there’s Emry Station, where an alien species known as the Morgut have killed and eaten everyone — and now they’re after Jax and crew, too. Later, the crew lands on the planet Lachion and has to survive in underground tunnels when things get hairy on the surface.
But what makes the danger and action scenes more interesting is the emotional investment. On Lachion, Jax and March are temporarily split up, and Jax worries about him when she can’t feel him in her mind. And the near-death situation on Emry Station forces Jax to make smart decisions. She’s terrified of dying, she wants to save March, she doesn’t want to be a coward, and yet she also wants to listen to Vel — her partner on the mission, who she is supposed to look out for instead of March — and play it smart by locking herself in the medical center until March and Jael return. It’s as interesting to see her inner struggle as it is to watch the action unfold.
Overall, Wanderlust has made me fall in love with Jax, March, Vel, and their friends more than ever. It’s also reminded me of why I love series like this: You have time to get attached to everyone, and cracking open a new book is like reuniting with old friends. I’m looking forward to reading Doubleblind next!