Monday, August 04, 2008

Shades of Dark by Linnea Sinclair

Shades of Dark is the much-anticipated sequel to Gabriel's Ghost, one of my favorite of Sinclairs SF Romance hybrids.
Gabriel's Ghost introduced us to the gorgeous kyi-ragkiril (kind of an uber-psychic-telepath), mercenary Gabriel Ross Sullivan, ("Sully") and the love of his life, Captain Chasidah "Chaz" Bergren, formerly of the Sixth Fleet. Tempestuous barely covers their relationship, as the two lovers are on the run from the corrupt officials trying to take over the empire, while simultainiously trying to locate the illegal labs breeding 'jukors' which are monstrous beings dedicated to destroying everything they touch.
Meanwhile, Sully enlists the aid of Regarth Serian Cordell Delkavra, a Stolorth kyi ragkiril prince known as "Del." Chaz's ex-husband Admiral Philip Guthrie also comes to the couple's aid, and the supporting cast, Marsh and Dorsie, Verno, Ren, Gregor and Aubry keep Chaz and Sully hopping.
I loved this novel, and spent the last three days reading it slowly, so I could savor the joy of reading the prose of a master wordsmith.
I want to pause for a moment here and discuss prose and the writers who create it. Writing is a craft, and skill that can be learned, but only successfully deployed when there is storytelling talent behind it. Like all crafts, there are those less skilled and those highly skilled wordsmiths going to the forge of creativity, day in and day out, trying to hammer out a novel or two. There used to be authors whose genius with words was augmented by brilliant editors who molded the talents of the authors, driving them to create their best work. Harold Ross, or Malcom Cowley are examples of that era of editors who captained their publishing houses' ships with a great eye for talent and fine writing.
Not so today, in this era of publishing conglomerates that seem more interested in quantity over quality, churning out books by people with little skill and no worthy stories to tell. In my own realm of journalism, I've seen semi-literate bloggers pretend to be journalists and churn out gossip and slander as news. So all forms of writing are under attack from the hordes of mediocre minds who assume that they are real writers because they can pick at a keyboard and opine on subjects of which they have little knowledge or background. In short, there is a lot of crap published out there, and it doesn't look like readers will get a break from having to wade through piles of poop to get to the diamonds anytime soon.
Thankfully, science fiction fans are blessed with writers like Linnea Sinclair, who never disappoints with baggy prose or sluggish plots. Her prose is so clean you could eat off of it, her plots swift and sure and her characters gleam with robust life. She is the queen of the science fiction romance genre, which is saying something when you consider the number of pretenders to the throne. As a former journalist and PI, I believe that Sinclair gained her writing chops the hard way, by working jobs that put her into contact with all the varieties of human, from scumbag to saint, and then having to get the story to the public on a deadline, without any fuss or supposition. She knows what a good paragraph looks like, just as she knows that characters can't be all bad or all good. They have to be that mish-mash of qualities that make us human. So Chaz Bergren carries a chip on her shoulder the size of an evergreen, and Sully is immature and in constant need of affirmations and ego boosts, and he trusts Del, who is putting the moves on Chaz, way too easily. But readers know that Sully is also a good man with strong values who loves Chaz with all that he is. And we know that Chaz, though she has a short fuse, will put up with more than she should for the sake of her beloved Sully. We see them interact through some zingy dialog that never lags, and we read of their love growing stronger through the ties of the ky-sara mind-link that they share. It makes for some fabulous sexual encounters, as well as keeping 'info-dumps' and repetitive updates to a minimum. Sinclair also makes sure that there are a variety of sizes, shapes and species to her characters, unlike many authors whose worlds seem populated only by perfect blondes and beautiful people from Central Casting in LA. Sinclairs people are short, round, tall, thin, furry, gray-haired, and realistic. She has a gift for making worlds you want to visit, ships you want to fly on, and people you'd love to share a cuppa tea with in space dock. In fact, I found myself, after reading Gabriels Ghost, wanting to share more than tea with the hottie mercenary, Sully. Mild snogging would do, I suppose, if I could get by Chaz and her grizini wrist knife.
At any rate, Chaz and Sully must navigate the emotional space of losing a brother, having the crew learn of Sully's special powers, and trying to keep their relationship intact when Del seems determined to develop a mental menage a tois, with or without Chaz' permission. Add Philip Guthrie and his guilt over his failed marriage to Chaz, and you've got quite an emotional stew to digest. Thanks to Sinclairs skill at whipping the characters destiny into a fine froth, it goes down easy as pie. (Apologies for the silly cooking metaphors, but it's almost lunchtime).
Though I would have liked to have seen more of Ren and Dorsies relationship blossoming, I have to say that this was a very satisfying sequel to Gabriels Ghost. There was enough action and adventure to keep readers turning pages into the wee hours, and several sizzling love scenes to keep romance readers eager for more encounters between Chaz and sexy Sully. Though most loose ends were tied up in the HEA, I believe Sinclair left things up in the air with Philip Guthrie so readers might segue into her next novel, "Hopes Folly" which follows Guthrie into his new role as leader of the rebel band.
Finally, I'd recommend this book to all who enjoy good science fiction adventures with some saucy romance woven throughout, giving the story spice.
One small postscript nitpick, I found the cliche "throbbing hardness" used to describe Sully's penis, and found myself wondering why this particular trope made it to Sinclairs otherwise wonderful novel. I've seen more than a few penises in my life, as I used to work as a CNA in my younger years, and, as a married woman, I can honestly say I've never seen a penis throb before. Were all the men I've dated defective? I've seen a penis grow engorged with blood, become erect, change color (slightly) due to the increased blood flow, and there is a certain amount of movement that goes along with having intercourse, but throbbing? Not really.
NOTE: Please see comments for an update about this nitpick.


Frances said...

Thank you for a well reasoned, well written review. I am very much looking forward to reading SHADES OF DARK. Linnea is a generous roll model.


Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future

DeAnn G. Rossetti said...

A post-postscript to my final nitpick comment:
I've been contacted by the Queen of SFR herself, who noted to me that she had good reason for using the "throbbing hardness" euphemism in Shades of Dark. It would appear that Sully's netherbits really do throb. Sadly, I've never experienced this particular kind of genital movement, but, I have it on good authority that it does, indeed, exist.
So pardon my confusion, and ignore that last comment of the review.
Now we return you to your regularly scheduled blog.