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Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre
Cover Artist: Scott Fischer
Review by Ernest Lilley
Ace Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441016273
Date: 26 August 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Website of Ann Aguirre / Show Official Info /

Following her adventure's in Ann Aguirre's debut novel Grimspace, hyperspace navigator, fallen society chick, overthrower of evil corporations, declared dead, then alive, but now without assets as a result, Sirantha Jax and her friends are back. The fall of the Corporation caused by her release of the information that they'd deliberately crashed a passenger ship has meant that the Conglomerate, an "impotent coalition of planetary representatives" has to actually attempt to bring order out of the power vacuum it left, lest something worse take its place.

For Jax it turns out that freedom's just another word for nobody giving you a paycheck, now that she's brought down her former employer. "Fortunately" the Conglomerate would like to reward her for uncovering the unpleasant truth. So they're making her an ambassador to a world full of aliens and sending her off with her loyal crew to keep the outer systems from deciding that without corporate muscle on the prowl they don't need to pay taxes and tariffs. Hopefully she won't get killed by pirates (or the government she's going to meet) as part of her reward. Though if she does, she knows she earned it fair and square by unsettling the balance of power.

So off she goes with her live-for-the-moment ship mechanic, her telepathic boyfriend, and a bounty hunter the Conglomerate was lucky enough to be able to grab for the assignment, and who happened to save her life in the first book.

Somehow I don't think this ambassadorship is going to involve a lot of social teas.

Before she takes off though, tea is exactly where she winds up when she runs into her mother as she and March are trying to get away for some much needed R&R. At the beginning of the first book, Jax was considered one of the best looking, and dressed women in the "tier" worlds. Now she looks more like a refugee from a war zone, shorn hair and painfully thin, which would be close to the truth. Her mother is still the tree she didn't fall far from, but it turns out they have something new in common; the fall of the corporation left her mother heavily in debt, and her father dead rather than face it.

The people that have their hooks into mom would very much like to have the daughter take up a position of political influence but the catch is that they're counting on her to screw up and as a result keep the alien races from integrating with humanity, while the Conglomerate is hoping just the opposite, and someone else just wants her dead.

Kind of makes you miss the bad old days, doesn't it?

Well, just when you thought things couldn't get worse, they do. And I'm not just talking about smuggling pregnant refugees from the alien extradition crackdowns, flesh eating space spiders, getting stranded in the odd civil war and being captured by the Syndicate. No, those would be trivial problems. Jax has real problems to deal with, some emotional, some more likely to be fatal, and a few with a mix of the two.

And to top it off, she's lost her spunk. Good thing she's still got her crew.

In this episode, Jax misplaces Marsh the psionic pilot/mercenary she's in love with, and picks up Jael, an engineered human that's faster, smarter, better looking, and harder to kill than, um, pretty much anyone. Evidently all that doesn't go over well in polite society, though I can't imagine why. Still, It looks like he may have found a home, among "…the first crew that ever made me feel normal." Normal isn't the way most people would describe Jax and her friends, but that's the point.

The cover blurbs for Ann Aquire's first book were full of praise for the gutsy, out of the box style and hard hitting action that we got in Grimspace. Maybe so, and we do get a fair amount of action and adventure here, but much of it feels either rushed or contrived. This is a post climax sort of book, and it suffers from a bit of depression. On the other hand, that's exactly what you get after bringing down the giant in the first book as you look around and realize that you've destabilized the local economy, political system, and the next country over is looking at your real estate (no longer protected by big green) with unsettling glances. Like any middle book, it works hard to flesh out and deal with inner conflicts, but it lurches about in the process creating tensions just to stir up some character angst.

Wanderlust is a fair second novel, but not stellar. I don't doubt but it will find a devoted audience of its own, and the story arc from Grimspace to whatever comes next may make it whole in the end, but it's not done yet, and Sirantha Jax has a long way to go.

Last: The Wyrmling Horde: The Seventh Book of the Runelords

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