I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
Liege-Killer was a thrill ride, and I was expecting more of the same from Ash Ock. For the most part, Ash Ock took place 56 years after Liege-Killer, during the time when the Paratwa were scheduled to return to Earth and try to force humanity into slavery. It should have been an exciting book, as good or better than the first. Unfortunately, it wasn't.
As I fought to stay interested in the story, I tried to pinpoint the problem. Was it the characters? Jerem Marth was back, upgraded from whiny 12-year old to elderly Lion of Alexander. His emotional attachment to Gillian hadn't diminished over the years – in fact, it appeared to have grown. It was cringe-worthy, made more so by indications here and there that Gillian did not share his depth of feeling. Even so, Jerem was more bearable in this book than he was in the first. Susan, the series' new female POV character, was actually harder to deal with.
In this book, a couple men who appeared to be radical members of a group known as the Order of the Birch were unpredictably massacring people. Susan had the bad luck to be caught in the middle of one of their bloodbaths. Because one of the killers recognized her and feared being identified by her, she continued to be targeted and was soon on the run. Instead of focusing entirely on the problem of survival, she stressed herself to pieces trying to figure out how to both stay safe and keep a scheduled date. In her mind, avoiding breaking a date and thereby protecting her social status was at least as important as staying alive. I was dumbfounded.
I was relieved to learn that I wasn't the only one. Her own aunt didn't believe she was really in danger, because what person in their right mind would give equal weight to both safety and social status? By that time, I had begun to feel a little more sympathy for Susan, because I'd learned more about her history. Her parents had been members of the Reformed Church of the Trust. When Susan was 11, they killed themselves in order to ensure that they could receive an Earth burial before greater restrictions were put in place. Susan spent years in therapy, and I'm assuming that the iron grip she kept on her social status was a kind of coping mechanism. Even so: life > social status. I wanted her to realize that. I can't reveal how things went for her without majorly spoiling things, so I'll just say that I wouldn't have guessed from her earlier POV sections that her story would go in that direction.
Book 2's "prominent female character" count was higher than Book 1's, but I'm not entirely sure how I feel about them. There was Colette, quietly using need and desire in order to maneuver humanity into place for the imminent hordes of Paratwa. Even though her primary offensive weapon was clearly flawed, she soldiered on. On humanity's side were Buff and Martha, tough, confident female Costeaus. I ended up nicknaming them Gillian's “Bond girls,” because of the way they interacted with him. They were fighters, yes, especially Martha, but something about them didn't work for me.
I didn't realize it until I got to the end of the book, but the biggest reason why Book 2 didn't work as well for me as Book 1 was probably because Book 2 was primarily setup. Colette and Ghandi's sections gradually revealed the methods the Paratwa planned to use to enslave humanity. Susan's section's hinted at how humanity might manage to stay free. Book 2 only revealed and arranged those threads – it didn't tie them up.
Nick and Gillian's sections attempted to drum up some of the thrill and mystery that made Liege-Killer so exciting, but they failed. Gillian was too scattered, and his opponent felt far too flawed compared to Reemul. Nick's efforts to deal with the sunsetter program decimating E-Tech's archives only managed to be exciting for a couple pages.
Although this book definitely wasn't as good as the first, the paths it pointed to were interesting enough that I still plan to finish up the trilogy. I'll cross my fingers and hope that all that setup was worth it and that The Paratwa contains some serious badassery.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)