I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
None of the reviews I read prior to buying this were very detailed, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Strike that, I did have some expectations based on Baen's description, but Crygender didn't exactly come through.
I bought this expecting an interesting exploration of gender-related issues and, in that respect, the book failed pretty badly. Readers were repeatedly told that Crygender, although initially shocking to see, was a work of art. However, I could never picture Cry in a way that wasn't freakish. Book Cover Cry looks somewhat androgynous. The Cry of the actual text, on the other hand, was an asymmetrical combination of stereotypes. One half of Cry's body was stereotypically female. The other half was stereotypically male. Cry even accentuated this through exercise, making sure the male half was well-muscled while the female half was slender. Cry took a chemical cocktail that not only helped to maintain this asymmetrical look, but also allowed Cry to behave in “male” and “female” ways (again, stereotypes).
The supposed result of all of this was a brand new gender, Crygender. While it was interesting reading about Cry's first weeks/months after recovering from the surgeries and going public and all the thought Cry put into the “Crygender” persona, Cry seemed more like a confirmation of gender stereotypes rather than some new and different third gender. Also, while Cry thought about whether all the surgeries were worth it, the answer(s) were never explored in much depth. I was left feeling like I had only a very surface-level understanding of Cry.
Only a very small amount of the book was devoted to exploring gender issues. Most of it was focused on the overall mystery: what do all these disparate people have in common? What does Lady Death, an assassin, have to do with Gloria de Groot? Why do the paths of Gloria, Jean Metis, Austin Tinker, and Sylvie cross? As some questions were answered, others rose to the surface. Although I was initially confused by all the seemingly unrelated characters, I enjoyed getting to find out how all the pieces fit together.
While I enjoyed the bulk of the book because the mystery aspects were so intriguing, I disliked the epilogue. No mention was made of Sylvie and her ultimate fate. It was pretty obvious, but still – I'd have at least liked a mention of her in passing. As it was, by the end she seemed less like a person and more like a plot device designed solely to bring Metis and Tinker to Babylon. The thing that really got me, though was Gloria and Tinker's “happy ending.”
I did not want those two to be a couple. At all. I liked Gloria. While it maybe wasn't smart going to Babylon with no back-up plan, I respected her determination to achieve her goal. She did what she had to do and didn't flinch when things got tough. Tinker was another matter. He fell instantly in lust with Gloria. Because he was a guest at Babylon and Gloria was an employee, he was able to ask for her to spend time with him, and she had to do it. He was interested in doing more than just talking to her, but he held back, disliking the idea that she might have sex with him simply because her job at Babylon required her to. Even when he held back, however, I always got the impression that sex was something he expected her to one day freely give him. There was never much evidence that Gloria was an interested in Tinker as he was in her, and I held on to the hope that she would leave him in the end and never turn back. Alas, things did not go my way.
To be frank, I'd rather have had Gloria end up with Metis if she had to be paired off with someone. Metis, like Gloria, was pretty awesome. He was clever and could think on his feet. He didn't bat an eye at Babylon's goings on, and Crygender only flustered him a little. His damaged spine was his weakness, but his prosthesis made him deadly in a fight. He was often referred to as being either insect- or lizard-like, which I can't disagree with, but he still appealed to me more than Tinker did. Something about him reminded me a little of Sherlock Holmes.
Although this book failed badly for me in some ways, I still really enjoyed it overall. I wish the gender-related aspects had been better, and I could have done without the attempt at romance, but the mystery aspects kept me hooked. If Thomas had another book starring Metis, I'd snatch it up.
(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)