GUEST REVIEW: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre
Dear Ms. Aguirre:
To say I was eager to get my hands on a copy of Wanderlust would be a complete understatement. I loved Grimspace. In fact, my only real complaint was that I wanted more. I wanted more Jax, more March, and more about how the big revelation regarding the Corporation would affect them both. But of course, those were answers left for another book. Although not quite as good as the first, I found Wanderlust to be a satisfying sequel with the same intriguing characters, and a skillfully constructed world that continues to grow even richer.
Wanderlust begins not long after Grimspace left off. The Farwan Corporation and its vast power over the universe are no more. The Conglomerate- a once useless organization of planetary representatives- has rushed in to conduct investigations and to seize control. Unfortunately for Jax, she soon finds out that she is broke and in need of employment. She also discovers that the Corporation’s research and training program have been shared with all interested organizations, thus destroying their monopoly on inter-planetary travel, and leaving Jax at loose ends. With no money and few choices, Jax accepts the Conglomerate’s offer to become an ambassador on an important mission to the planet of Ithiss-Tor.
Before she heads out, Jax gains an inkling of how dangerous the mission will be when her self-indulgent mother pops back into her life for the first time in 15 years. It seems that Ramona Jax landed herself in debt to the Syndicate, a powerful underworld organization led by the mysterious Mr. Jewel. Mr. Jewel gives Jax a choice: fail her mission or her mother will die. Of course, Jax isn’t the type to be threatened- even with her own mother’s life. As usual, she counters this serious situation with her own trademark sense of humor. It’s that sense of humor that kept me so engaged in the story, often grinning from ear to ear.
"Do you plan to accept the appointment?" She seems nervous, almost frightened, in fact. Her red-lacquered nails tap out a subliminal statement on the glastique table.
"I thought I’d become a junk dealer." Yes, I’m baiting her deliberately. "Maybe do salvage runs, or possibly just settle down on New Terra and go to work in recycling. Have some brats. Would you like that?" I ask March.
You’re so evil, he tells me silently.
Then he chokes out, eyes watering. "Whatever you want."
Shit, I wish I’d recorded that. I can think of any number of situations where playback would come in handy.
After surviving so much in Grimspace, you’d think Jax could catch a break. Unfortunately for her, there’s no letting up. This time around, she’s suffering from a mysterious illness that leaves her tired, fragile and nearly defenseless. She’s no longer capable of rushing right into all the action, but is instead forced to stand back and watch, often the one needing protection from others. Jax is worried that she could die and copes with this fear by distancing herself from March. The illness leads to even more complications until finally March makes an important decision that will have a great impact on their future. Without giving away too many spoilers here, I’ll just say that I wanted to see much more at this part of the book. I felt that March’s decision was believable in light of his history, but that his subsequent character development on Lachion was rushed. Maybe my problem was that so much of this happened off screen, but it was such a significant change in his character and I wish there had been more page time devoted to it.
Once in awhile you come across certain characters that just remain with you long after you’ve finished a book. For me, I found those characters in the cast of Grimspace and Wanderlust. In particular, I enjoyed getting to know more about the bounty hunter Velith and found his relationship with Jax both amusing and sweet. Jax and March, of course, remain my favorites. After the first book, I was worried that I would lose some interest in their relationship. They were so great together, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough for me. I really need conflict to sustain my interest in a romance. This may frustrate some readers who want their characters to have a HEA, but for me it’s imperative that there’s something more than just smiles and laughter and endless declarations of love. Luckily, there’s plenty of conflict. Jax and March each have their own set of demons to deal with. For Jax, it’s the loss of her lover Kai and learning to trust and to need someone again. For March, it’s his past and a debt that he feels obligated to pay back. Their conflict, a natural progression of the years of suffering and loss that have shaped them, was heart-wrenching and I found myself very caught up in the emotional angst of their relationship.
I had a little trouble getting into the first part of the book. The beginning moves a little slowly, particularly before they get off planet. There are also some plotting issues. Like the first, Wanderlust has an episodic narrative that breaks up the pacing of the book. I didn’t really notice it so much in Grimspace as I did here. Additionally, I had trouble understanding the relevance of certain events and grew increasingly impatient for the story to get back on track. As it turns out, those events lead to consequences that are in fact very relevant to the larger story, but it wasn’t until I had read ¾ of the book that I began to see the big picture. Towards the end, I had to accept the fact that the series of events that seemingly just got in the way were in fact the actual story. I enjoyed the action, but definitely experienced some frustration as the book progressed.
Overall, I liked Wanderlust. A lot. I didn’t love it as much as Grimspace, but I’m very much a fan of this series, and can’t wait to see what happens next.