Feb 18, 2013: The first chapter of Strings of Retaliation blew my metaphorical socks off. I haven’t read the first Nighshade novel (yet), but the opening of this one gave me a sharp and immediate sense of the world, the characters and the problem that they faced. Not only that, but the world was interesting, the characters engaging and the problem unusual – after the events of the first book, the main character has lost her motivation. Except for a few typos, there was nothing at all for a reviewer to complain about. I eagerly turned to the next chapter.
Unfortunately, the next chapter didn’t keep up the intensity of the first. Neither did the next one, or the one after that, and different permutations of the comment ‘slow’ began appearing in my notes. I think Strings of Retaliation suffers from one of the most insidious problems in storytelling, namely the lack of a good villain. There is certainly conflict between the characters, but it can only become so intense without making their relationships seem unlikely, and there is certainly a menace from vague external interests, but so far it hasn’t coalesced into something concrete for the protagonist to struggle against. The loss of motivation mentioned above is resolved fairly soon, and it would hardly make for a good ‘villain’ without megabytes of text devoted to psychological realism. No, for my money, Strings of Retaliation needs a villain.
The novel is only on chapter eleven as I write this, so a villain might very well be on its way. In the meantime, the writing is generally great, physical descriptions integrate beautifully with the thoughts of the viewpoint characters and the various relationships give rise to great interpersonal chemistry. Unfortunately (again), there are also times when the text becomes unclear and ungrammatical – in chapter 8a, the sentence ‘that’s was one of the reason why I didn’t have a secret identity like my father had’ is an example of both, since I can’t find any such reason in the previous text.
Finally, I was surprised to learn that the story is set in the year 2513. That means that Nightshade is as far removed from us as Ponce de Leon, Henry VIII and Niccolò Machiavelli, and I would have expected society to have changed more in that time. For example, the fact that the FBI is still around five hundred years on, and apparently works much as it does today, must make it one of the oldest and most conservative organizations in history. But again, all this could very well be explained in the first Nightshade novel, which I haven’t read. Yet!
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