Review: Grimspace, Ann Aguirre

Cover comment: The heroine’s hair is not what is described in the book, where the unruly mess is almost a character in itself, and is an important component of the heroine’s identity, but I ought to be used to those discrepancies by now. Otherwise, I think it’s a terrific fun pulpy SF cover.

Setting: Mostly on a ship in space, with eventful visits to several different planets. Earth, or Old Terra, fares about as well in this world as it did in the movie Wall-E.

Series: Yes, the second book, Wanderlust, is out now. Doubleblind and Killbox to follow. You can read a prequel about March, the hero, here.

Main characters: The heroine, Sirantha Jax, genetically gifted with the coveted ability to travel through grimspace; The hero, March, hard bitten pilot with Psi abilities. And several other shipmates, including Dina, the butch lesbian, Doc, the pacific geneticist, and Loras, the subservient protector.

Plot: When we meet her, Jax is an unjustly disgraced former “nav-star”, being held for interrogation about a crash which killed her pilot/lover, and destroyed their ship, killing all 80 persons aboard. March and the crew of the Folly rescue Jax from the evil Corporation, and together the fugitive gang travels to different planets on a mission which becomes clearer as the book progresses.

Distinctive features: This is hard for me to judge, because the book’s genre is SF, not romance. But viewed as a romance, the world building and the characterization of the heroine stand out.

My take in brief: I don’t have time to formulate it because I have to get to Borders before it closes to buy Wanderlust. How’s that?

Word on the Web: Almost unanimously positive, from both romance and SF. (Although I swore to myself when I started this blog that I wasn’t going to let The Evil Empire Google Page Rank stop me from finding good but little noticed reviews, I eventually realized after the nth page of search results that I did, in fact, require food and sleep, so I gave up.) You can find my long but incomplete set of review links at the bottom of this post.

The Racy Romance Review:

Sometimes, I read a book and enjoy it. Other times, lightening strikes. There’s some indefinable level of excitement, over and above enjoyment and appreciation of the book, and for me it’s based on a feeling of kinship, with, not the real person who is the author, but with who the author appears to be when I enter her fictional world (the “implied author” for you literary types). It’s like making a new friend. I felt that tingling excitement when I read Grimspace.

Yes, it’s written in the first person and present tense, and while that meant (a) that I didn’t get to know the hero as well as I might have liked, and (b) that there were occasionally very odd temporal slips, I thought the narration was perfect for conveying the character of Jax and the fast pace of the action. In many ways, this is a story of rebirth and redemption, and getting to see it happen from the inside was terrific. Plus, it was genius to make the hero a Psi who can not only “read” minds but who can flood our heroine’s mind with his own, so that we get March’s thoughts when we need to.

I hate heroines who are called strong only because they can stoically put up with a lot of (usually the hero’s) crap without having a mental breakdown, but I’ve already vented my spleen on the kick-ass heroine, and Sirantha Jax is definitely one of those. There’s one scene in particular that made me jump out of my seat. Jax and the gang are facing, as usual, Imminent Awful Events:

Carl glances to me in appeal., as if I have some power in this insane tableau. Then I realize I do.

“Frag you.” I answer his look in Keri’s time for tea tone.

And it takes him a moment to process the disparity of the words from the sweetness in my voice. The Gunnars look like killers, all of them. Big men, hard eyed, well geared, and ready to throw down. That’s fine.

So am I.

I’m Sirantha Jax, and I have had enough.

Jax is a terrifically unique heroine. She has no vanity, no desire for domestic bliss, and she’s self-centered as hell. In one scene, she actually leaves the hero to die in order to save herself — and not because he asked her to, either.

Another thing that makes Jax unique is her love of jacking into grimspace, which provides her with a source of independent joy that will always keep her from collapsing into the kind of romance heroine who only needs her hero to find happiness, which usually requires gleefully abandoning her every commitment to fit into his world.

Grimspace flight is described as euphoric, addicting, and terrifying all at once. Her ability to navigate it gives Jax a core of independence that cannot be extracted from her, but since every flight might be the one that takes her life, it also provides pathos, helping us to sympathize with her even at her least appealing moments.

Jax is pretty unformed when we meet her (she has understood the world on other people’s terms, happy enough to be a star navigator) and her reminiscences of her relationship with her doomed pilot and lover, Kai, remind us of both her vulnerability and immaturity. Kai loved her, but he didn’t challenge her, not the way March eventually does. Sure, its convenient that March is not only a pilot, but a Psi – this makes Jax’s trips into grimspace more than a solo journey. But it worked for me.

The romance develops much like the Roark and Eve romance — in heated snippets against a background of a lot of non-romance plot and many other characters, but as with the In Death series, it is no less compelling for that. Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting a handle on March — his characterization was not consistent — and I never understood his motivations. Maybe those will be revealed in later installments.

The plot unfolds in truly unpredictable fashion, yet without taking unbelievable turns … until the end, when it does. Here’s the problem with the rag tag gang of rebels against the evil empire plot, whether it’s Firefly or Star Wars or His Dark Materials, or Grimspace: You have to believe strongly in the danger, strength and evilness of the empire, while at the same time believing that your rag tag heroes can actually prevail. You need dread to create dramatic tension, but you need hope to avoid putting the book down in despair. I felt Grimspace managed to do both until the climax.

At the end of Grimspace, after hundreds of pages of learning how dastardly the powerful corporation is, it appears to essentially collapse when Jax and the gang manage to let folks know it has lied to them.  Maybe it’s my frustration with my fellow Americans’ tacit acceptance of the foreign policy of the Bush administration, but I find it hard to believe that people will change their views about a controlling force in their lives when they find out it misled them.  And even if they do, their powerlessness with respect to this controlling force will hardly evaporate.

Still, I really enjoyed this book, felt excited about meeting this author on the page, and I can’t wait to read the next installments.

Here’s what a bunch of other folks thought:

From Romance Reviewers:

**Winner of the “Voice in the Wilderness (VITW)” award: Thea, of the Book Smugglers, 4 out of 10

*Second place, for the VITW award, goes to Rike, AAR, grade: D

Jane, Dear Author, A-

Phyl, guest at Dear Author, B+ (scroll down that post for links to several other reader reviews)

Leslie, TGTBTU, A-

AztecLady, guest review at Karen Knows Best, 8.5

Mrs. Giggles, 78

Katiebabs, Ramblings on Romance, 5 out of 5

Ana, Book Smugglers, 7 out of 10

Avid Book Reader, A

Tumperkin, Isn’t It Romance, Keeper

KMont, Lurve a la Mode, 4 out of 5

Bookdaze, B+

Alyssa, By the Book, 4 out of 5

AAR Thread on the review AAR review

From Sci Fi reviewers:

Sci Fi Weekly, B+

Kimberly Sawn, Darque Reviews, positive

Fantasy Cafe, Mostly positive

Grasping for the Wind, positive

From reviewers with no particular bent:

ShannonC., Flight into Fantasy, A-

Jan, Reading Etc., positive, 4 stars after 39 reviews

Discriminating Fangirl, A (I love this blog name)

A video review (gosh, that’s brave!), from “leatherzebra”, here

Fun Factoid: A terrific interview with Ms. Aguirre at a terrific blog, WriterUnboxed.

Published in: on September 15, 2008 at 7:26 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. **Winner of the “Voice in the Wilderness (VITW)” award: Thea, of the Book Smugglers : LOL I am in stitches here.

    I like Grimspace but didn’t love as much as everybody else did. Have you read Linnea Sinclair? She is one our favorite Sci-fi Romance readers, she is just incredible. I would start with Games of Command or Gabriel’s Ghost (which has a very similar plot to Grimspace).

  2. Thanks for the ping, and I’m glad you like the blog name, hehe.

    I’m glad to see that other readers loved this book as much as I do! I’m a fan of both SF and romance, and I love the way this one blurs the lines between the two genres. I also reviewed the sequel, Wanderlust, here. I’d love to hear your take on it!

  3. TDF — Thanks for visiting. I plan to read Wanderlust later this week.

    Ana — Yes, Thea gets props for independence in reviewing! I will add Sinclair to my growing TBR pile!

  4. […] Yes, the first book was Grimspace, which I also read and reviewed here.  Doubleblind and Killbox to follow. You can read a prequel about March, the hero, […]

  5. […] me think of this as more of an SFF book than a straight romance. It’s funny: I recently read Grimspace by Ann Aguirre, which is labeled SF. Games of Command is labeled “romance”. I would […]

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