JOINT REVIEW: Lonely Shore by Jenn Burke,Kelly Jensen
Dear Jenn Burke & Kelly Jensen,
Kaetrin: When Sirius reviewed the earlier book in this series, Chaos Station, earlier this year, it reminded me I meant to buy and read it. When we heard Lonely Shore was coming out, we decided to review it together.
Warning: Spoilers for the previous book below.
My starting point is that I read Chaos Station only a short time ago so the events of that book were fresh in my mind. It wasn’t quite as successful for me as it was for Sirius. I’d have ranked it about a B-/C+ I think. It may have been my reading mood but I felt a little disconnected from the main love story. I liked it but my emotions weren’t as engaged as I’d have liked them to be. Certainly there was enough to make me want to keep reading. When I started Lonely Shore, that disconnect initially persisted. I remember thinking that those who were invested in the couple would likely be worried and scared for Zed and Flick. And then a funny thing happened. About 25 pages later, the investment I lacked suddenly coalesced and I was All. In. For that reason, I’d say this is a stronger book than the first. I don’t think it would stand alone that well but for those readers who were on the fence about trying book 2 (assuming there were any and my reaction to Chaos Station wasn’t singular), my vote is yes, do it.
Sirius: I am not sure whether I *like* this book better than the first one (even though I agree that it does not stand alone and this is in essence the second part of a single story arc), but I do think that it is more tightly written than the first one. I mentioned this before in some of my other reviews but it bears repeating – whether I liked/disliked something in the story may influence my grade but if and only if what I disliked did not work for me in the story. If something I disliked fitted the story, I try to never downgrade for this and I was very conflicted after I finished it.
Kaetrin: At the end of Chaos Station, the crew of the Chaos had been increased by one; Zed. Zed and Flick were together but Zed’s health was deteriorating as a result of the experimentation with Stin poison the AEF (Allied Earth Forces) had done on him in an attempt to win the recent galactic war. Also, the Chaos had pissed off the Agrius Cartel in a big way. Lonely Shore continues on about four weeks after the end of the first book. Agrius continues to plague the crew. Zed is Zoning unexpectedly and not of his own volition. He starts to lose memories and hallucinate, and he becomes increasingly volatile. Time is running out. Flick, Qek (the Ashushk pilot of the Chaos), Captain Elias, Dr. Nessa and Zed all try to stave off the inevitable and increasingly desperate attempts are made to save Zed’s life. That, right there, is the heart of the story.
Sirius: And that right there is the reason why I was so conflicted after I finished the book. I thought the reasons for the tension between Zed and Flick in this book were *perfect*. I cannot tell you how many times I have read the sequel/second book in a trilogy/series/what have you and feel so frustrated at the idiotic reasons for the couple, who have professed their deep love, to start bickering. Here I did not even blink at the tension between them, because the impending death of a loved one is a cause for tensions/issues/all the heartbreaking emotions. It was very nicely done I thought, it was not manipulative at all for me, genuine and moving and easily recognizable from reality. And at the same time it was so depressing, not because the authors cranked the angstometer up to eleven, but because they set it up very well in the first book and followed through to the logical end. Basically I could not wait for this book to be over. I have not read it again before starting this review as I usually do and I’m not planning to read it again when I reread the series (fingers crossed I will want to do it when it is over). However I respected the heck out of this book. I liked how through the action characters’ personalities shone and the characterizations got new layers. For example we learn some interesting things about Qek. Were you surprised by these revelations?
Kaetrin: Not so much surprised, but I really liked was the way the rest of the crew were characterized. They each have distinct personalities and it felt like a true ensemble for a lot of the book, even though the focus is on the love story between Flick and Zed. As for Qek, I was intrigued by the further information we gained about Ashushk society but I felt her story fizzled a bit. I’m hoping it will be picked up in the next book. There is a rich well to draw on I think.
I wanted to talk a bit more about my reaction to the middle (ish) section of the book. As Flick and Zed started to appreciate the rapid decline of Zed’s health a whole barrage of emotions and reactions were revealed. My stepdad is going through a real world version of this and my dad went through something similar (albeit much faster) and those stages – the denial, the exhaustion, the tension, the clinging and the pushing away, the despair – they all felt very real to me. There is a shocking tragedy to someone whose mind is being eroded by disease and it was illustrated so well here. Zed is a super soldier; strong and brave and loyal, but he is helpless against what is happening to him.
Later, when they were clinging to a slim hope he might somehow survive and watching that hope be eroded day after day and trial after trial, it was shredding for me. I’ve been in the position (different circumstances) where hope was almost all lost and then that shard of hope becomes a knife to the heart – and I think the narrative captured that absolutely. I didn’t feel manipulated into those emotions, which has been the case for me in other books. I felt they were drawn from me by the narrative. As you said Sirius, the emotion of the story was genuine and moving.
It was mainly Flick I responded to but the reactions of the rest of the crew were poignant as well. Elias is a POV character (somewhat unusual I think given that he is not involved in the love story) and he got to me in a big way too. That call with Brennan? Let’s just say things get worse before they get better. There were many tissues used and there might even have been actual sobs.
However, that strong reaction in the middle section (when I say middle section, I’m talking a middle that probably stretches to 2/3 of the actual book – so I only mean it in the sense of “not the beginning” and “not the end”) meant that the book petered out for me at the finale. For me, it couldn’t help but be anticlimactic.
Thematically, there were two stories to deal with in this book – Zed and the beef with the Agrius cartel. The latter story had a lackluster end IMO, but I would not be at all surprised if it turns out that things are not at all what they seem. What do you think?
Sirius: See now I’m starting to wonder whether this book even warrants a joint review – simply because I agree with so much of what you have written and cannot offer a different angle about how their reactions to Zed’s declining health did to me. Yes, I went through something similar with my Dad years ago.
I think that for the second book in the trilogy (or in the series since I do not know whether the third book, which comes out in the fall, is going to be the last one) it was very tight, but it had to leave some loose ends for next book/s to deal with and Qek’s story is hopefully going to be one of those ends. I was really impressed with the characterizations of Qek and Nessa in the first book, but this one gave them more layers. I thought it was interesting how I felt that they both have agency in the novel despite mostly being involved in Zed’s story. I was impressed with the choices Qek was willing to make simply out of loyalty for her friend, knowing what it may cost her.
As to the beef with Agrius cartel, well I agree and disagree that it was a lackluster. I agree that there was not much of it and it was anticlimactic, however Zed’s story took *so much* emotions out of me because I was so invested, that I needed a breather and I think this story provided it for me. Zed’s story is resolved in chapter 20 after all and the book only has 22 chapters, so I was perfectly fine with them doing something which ended up to be not life threateningly scary at the very end of the book. Whether something more will come out of that, I have no idea.
Kaetrin: I think I’d have been just as satisfied if the story had ended where things were happy for Zed and Flick with a “see what happens to the crew of the Chaos and how they deal with Agrius in the next book…” or something as a teaser. But, I read for the romance – that story was done so I was done too!
Sirius: I was more irritated with the resolution of “Zed’s dying” story. I mean, I was not “irritated” per se, because of course I did not want it to be resolved “the other way”, but it just felt like oh – here is the artificial device to deal with it kind of thing. However this actually feels like maybe some other plotline may develop from this resolution, so we shall see.
Kaetrin: Yes, my jury is still out on that one. There is an element of deus ex machine which will become too convenient if it continues to occur – my count is currently two. While I obviously liked where Zed ended up, I’m hoping that the storyline there will become more meaty.
Sirius: What do you think about potential reasons for tension between Zed and Flick in the next book? Can you come up with any?
Kaetrin: That’s a bit of a concern for me actually. I wonder if there is enough conflict left between them to sustain the narrative tension. I’d happily read a book which focuses more on Qek or Elias/Nessa, but I think Flick’s and Zed’s romantic arc is done. They have earned their HEA and worked through their issues.
Of course, something could happen to split them up or whatever but I think I’d be pissed off if that occurred – after all they’ve been through, to put them through the wringer again seems unnecessarily torturous. What do you think Sirius?
Sirius: Yep, it feels like the guys worked out their internal tension. Of course there are always external issues in adventure stories which can cause them to temporarily separate, and I can buy it, but they seem like a solid couple to me now and “he loves me he loves me not, he shares stuff with me or he does not” is not something I am looking forward to in the next book. I can see, for example, the exploration of Qek’s story being front and center and them being supporting players and having to do different things, or the Agruis cartel being annoying again. We shall see .
Kaetrin: I tend to grade on my emotional reaction to a book. The technical and intellectual aspects of the story all feed into that – if I’m distracted by a lack in those areas, then my emotions won’t be engaged in the same way. Lonely Shore hooked me in a way the previous book didn’t. Technically, I thought the story was tighter as well. Yes, there were some things which didn’t quite work for me but, my gut feeling was that this book was a B+ so that’s what I’m going with for the grade. What about you?
Sirius & Kaetrin