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REVIEW:  The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

REVIEW: The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings


Dear Ms. Cummings,

I think we’ve reached that stage where post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels are being labelled something else to circumvent disenchantment. I obviously have thoughts about this because given the flood of such books over the past few years, readers can spot them no matter what you call them. The Murder Complex is being touted as a futuristic thriller but don’t believe it. This is a dystopian, albeit more action-packed than we’ve grown to expect from the subgenre.

Now I like action. I think many dystopian novels could have been vastly improved had there been more of a balance between external action and internal monologuing. But balance is exactly what The Murder Complex is missing. Except in this case we swing wildly in the other direction to all action and little meaningful character development.

First, we have our two viewpoint characters: Meadow and Zephyr. (I don’t even know where to begin with these names.) Meadow lives on a houseboat somewhere in futuristic Florida with her father, older brother, and little sister. Zephyr is an orphan who, from what I’ve been able to gather, is charged with picking up garbage around the city. But wait, here’s the twist! Meadow was trained by her fisherman father to be sociopathic killer. As for Zephyr? Well, he’s a sleeper assassin whose mission is to kill randomly picked citizens as some convoluted form of population control. If you’re beginning to raise your brows, just wait. I haven’t even gotten to the worldbuilding yet.

In fact, I don’t even know how to explain the worldbuilding. While I’m not a fan of the Infodump School of Worldbuilding, giving bits and pieces of the setting via the narrative only works if they make sense and form a cohesive whole. From what I was able to put together, there was a plague at some point. Then a teenaged genius (Meadow’s mother, naturally!) finds a cure involving nanotech and the world is saved! Except the nanotech means that disease and injury are no longer things that happen and the population gets out of control. Resources have to be carefully controlled and rationed by the government, here called the Initiative. This led to the formation of the Murder Complex (translation: the sleeper assassins) to control population growth. On top of that, I’m fairly sure there was some sort of war that razed the earth because everyone lives in the city and doesn’t venture out. Also, there are pirates and crazed, garbage-covered mobs that roam around attacking people. (Why? Just because!)

There are other elements I’m omitting here because they venture into spoiler territory but while I’ve done my best to make sense of the worldbuilding, trust me when I say the execution is random and disjointed at best.

There are elements that sound like they should make for an interesting story. Meadow’s genius mother, Lark, is missing and presumed dead but she casts a long shadow over our heroine’s life. Responsible for the cure that saved humanity, and later doomed it, Lark was a key member of the Initiative and the mastermind of the Murder Complex. What happened to her? Did she betray the Initiative? Was she killed because the government found her? There’s great potential for the mystery of Lark but what actually happens in the book is both underwhelming and ridiculous.

Similarly, Zephyr falls instalove with Meadow. Why? Because he’s been dreaming of her for a long time. Meadow is his silver-haired dream girl, you see. (I’m choosing to believe “silver” is just a frou-frou way of saying “sun-bleached” or “platinum blonde” so please let me retain that delusion if I’m wrong.) That’s… okay, I guess, but this gets a weird connotation because Lark is the one who raised Zephyr and trained and programmed him into being a sleeper assassin in the first place. Seriously, Lark’s voice is the one he hears in his head when he gets his orders to kill. And Meadow got her “silver” hair from Lark. It’s weird, right? Does Zephyr dream of Meadow because there’s some unexplained connection to her via the programming done by Lark? Or does he dream of a younger version of Lark? I feel uncomfortable about this either way.

Ultimately, The Murder Complex fails for me because of a simple reason: the characters. Lots of things happen. So many things happen over the course of the book, in fact. But I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it because I didn’t care at all about any of the characters. Not Meadow. Not Zephyr. When I don’t care about the protagonists, it doesn’t matter if they’re wanted by the government or being chased down by pirates. And it certainly won’t hit me hard when I learn the (not all that surprising) truth about Meadow’s mother.

The Murder Complex gets compared to La Femme Nikita and Hanna, and I can see why. It’s full of cinematic-style action and violence. But I love Hanna because I loved the characters as well as the action and violence. And there is no getting around the fact that a book is not a movie. You can do things with the written word that you cannot do with a movie and vice versa. Namely, especially in the YA genre, the ability to get into the characters’ heads and get a strong sense of their personality and feelings. I think The Murder Complex might have forgotten that along the way. D

My regards,

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REVIEW: Wars of the Heart by Inari Gray

REVIEW: Wars of the Heart by Inari Gray

Dear Ms. Gray,

When I read the blurb for Wars of the Heart, I was utterly confused. Let me explain; or better yet let me sum up the blurb, which goes something like this:

Katherine Morgan is a diplomat from Earth, she thinks that someone is out to destroy Earth’s Ozone Shield, and goes to the Peace Keeping Intergalactic Council (PKIC) for both assistance and an investigation. But the PKIC can only offer up someone else’s muscle. Of course, the muscle is King Ja-el Lamar, the guy whose heart Katherine broke a long, long time ago. So she’s told by the PKIC that she has to “force” an alliance with Ja-el or else he will lose his kingdom. Oh, and Ja-el has his own scheme.

Wars of the Heart by Inari GrayYep. There’s a powerless council that will force a king to do something, a diplomat that is apparently in charge of Earth’s environmental well-being, and a king that is described as impetuous and at the mercy of said diplomat. You may ask why I would bother to read this after such a strange and WTF-laden blurb. Well…it’s space + romance. Let’s face it, I just can’t get enough of space and romance combined, and I’ll try anything that’s billed as SciFi Romance once. And after reading the first five pages of the book I was in serious hope that things would get better.

They didn’t.

But before I delve into my issues with the book, let me sum up for realz:

Katherine Morgan is a diplomat for Earth, working hard at a job she’s always wanted. She’s discovered that there have been strategic attacks on Earth’s Ozone Shield, targeted at the most important loci to do the maximum amount of damage. Fearing that Earth is in danger of attack and will become a scarred wasteland, Katherine appeals to the elders of the PKIC for help. During a video conference with numerous representatives, they admit that they can offer technological assistance but the only planet that can offer true military backing is Salatiel, but it’s representative, King Ja-el Lamar, doesn’t bother to dial in to the meeting. In a twist (ok, not really), Tobias Laivir, the head of the Elder Council and Katherine’s ex-boyfriend, moves to send Katherine to Salatiel to tell Ja-el to “yield” or the PKIC will be forced to take action.

Katherine goes to Salatiel and Ja-el refuses to see her immediately. Katherine has conversations with her ex-mentor Laramie, who happens to be Ja-el’s political advisor, Ja-el’s military master and member of the PKIC Elder council, Neelam Reybak and her father who is an Elder member of the PKIC. Katherine delves into memories of her time on Salatiel for diplomat training, goes for long walks on the beach, and pretty much accomplishes nothing. There’s a lot of what is supposed to pass for political maneuvering; Ja-el makes Katherine wait to see him and Katherine makes noise to the PKIC, but it just reads as two kids sniping at each other. Ja-el is also…er…enjoying the benefits of a princess of a neighboring planet. She’s none to thrilled that Ja-el is unable to give her his heart, or any sort of emotion whatsoever. But apparently they are having some hawt sex.

The plot…er, I should say, the Ozone Shield plot, becomes more confusing with different twists added. There seems to be some weird things going on, but no one shares information with each other. As I read the book I realized that a lot of clues were thrown out, but nothing was tied together in a way that made complete sense. In addition, everyone on Salatiel is operating in their own little bubble, existing on bitter feelings and reliving glory days, none of which move the plot or the romance forward. The lack of communication between the characters means you have one giant clusterfuck of a who-did-what-to-whom-and-why storyline. On the romance side, the heat between Katherine and Ja-el is nonexistent. There seems to be more going on below the belt and mentally with Ja-el’s princess paramour. The Katherine/Ja-el romance is flat and uninspiring and there are times when it feels like I’m reading about to bratty teenagers rather than a king and a diplomat.

But my real issues with the book are Katherine and Ja-el. She met Ja-el and they fell in…something when she was sixteen. Oy. I couldn’t wrap my head around that, or the fact that yep…Ja-el “did” something to her to tie them together forever back when they were in “training”. Two: the writing was so…out there with descriptions that I had a hard time imagining what people were really thinking or feeling. Take a gander:

In the center of the screen, eyes brighter than glowing amethysts stared at her intently. Exasperation showed in the constricted brows that towered above them. Katherine looked at the man they belonged to, a vision of fairytale-like beauty with striking features and wispy sandy brown hair. Behind the mask of his attractiveness, his violet stare was cold as stone.

Is she looking at his constricted brows? What the hell is a constricted brow? But the weird descriptions go on:

Her tongue felt thick, too heavy to form coherent words. “I was just about to go find you.” He didn’t respond. He simply stared, deathly silent, unnerving. She fought the urge to recoil. His eyes pierced hers as though they saw a web of lies beneath the surface of her skin. Honesty, she reminded herself, though the urge to lie came more naturally. “There’s something I really wanted to discuss with you,” she said, when the silence stretched to an uncomfortable level.

I would have thought the piercing of her eyes was more uncomfortable than the silence.

Finally, Katherine neither acts nor thinks like a diplomat, a grown woman, or someone who is in a position of authority. Ja-el neither acts nor thinks like a king, a mature man (ok, that might be an oxymoron, but nonetheless…), or again, someone in a position of power. There’s zero strategy from Katherine and a bit more than a thimbleful from Ja-el. I plowed through this one, but unless you’ve got a hard on for space-based romance like I do, I wouldn’t bother. C-

~ Shuzluva

Since anything else might veer into spoiler territory, I’ll refrain from saying more about the plot.

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