Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow

Ever since the Delonese ice-planet arrived eleven years ago, Sofi's dreams have been vivid. Alien. In a system where Earth's corporations rule in place of governments and the humanoid race orbiting the moon are allies, her only constant has been her younger brother, Shilo. As an online gamer, Sofi battles behind the scenes of Earth's Fantasy Fighting arena where Shilo is forced to compete in a mix of real and virtual blood sport. But when a bomb takes out a quarter of the arena, Sofi's the only one who believes Shilo survived. She has dreams of him. And she's convinced he's been taken to the ice-planet.

Except no one but ambassadors are allowed there.

For Miguel, Earth's charming young playboy, the games are of a different sort. As Ambassador to the Delonese, his career has been built on trading secrets and seduction. Until the Fantasy Fight's bomb goes off. Now the tables have turned and he's a target for blackmail. The game is simple: Help the blackmailers, or lose more than anyone can fathom, or Earth can afford.

I really hate rating this book so low for two reasons. First, Mary Weber’s Storm Siren trilogy is one of my all-time favourite fantasy series and I had high hopes for her next duology. Second, the themes, diversity and messages in this book are so, so important. I really admire what the author was going for here. From the ethnically and sexually diverse cast to the thorny subjects of human trafficking and political corruption, this series aimed high and deserves kudos for doing so. The problem was I just didn’t connect with the characters and found the story hopelessly confusing at times.

The book kicks off in the midst of the games; a partly computer generated and partly real fight between child gamers representing various corporations. But it was never really clear what was going on. The descriptions and information came so thick and fast that I struggled to keep up. It didn’t help that one moment characters were saying that players couldn’t get hurt by the games, but a few chapters later were talking abut actually injuries and potential death. Add into this the mentions of corporations that rule earth in place of a government and an alien planet floating nearby, and there was just too much going on, especially for a first book. It didn’t help that the details of the corporations, what they did and how they’d seized power, were never fully explained. Nor was the sudden proximity of an alien planet, either its history or how a new mass could suddenly appear next to earth without wreaking havoc with its environment.

The story moves at such a fast pace there really isn’t much time to get to grips with the society and world it’s taking place in. Random future words and non-sensical tech speak pepper the story ("hacking" is apparently another word for magic - that's the only explanation for some of the things computers can do here). Add to that the mystery of just what happened to Shilo, Sophie and Miguel’s tangled past and flashbacks to a sinister past Sophie can’t quite remember, and I was too confused by the story to be engaged by it.

I didn’t feel Sophie’s relationship, such as it was, with Miguel. Their backstory was too vague and briefly touched on (they almost had a thing, but he walked away and broke her heart) to make much impact. The relationship between Sophie and her brother Shilo fared much better. Their sibling bond was strong enough to make the lengths Sophie was willing go to to get him back believable, and it was nice to see the sibling relationship take priority over the romantic one. I wasn't a huge fan of Miguel's pov chapters either. Because the author had to withhold crucial information from the reader, his character constantly felt dishonest and I felt like I was being cheated.

If a character has information - especially the kind that Miguel did - it doesn't feel real when they go out of their way to avoid mentioning it, even in their internal dialogue. I lost count of the amount of times Miguel would start to think about his past, only to then stop dead in his train of thought and refuse to think any more about it. Maybe it was this that kept me from connecting with Miguel as a character and made his perspective on the story a low point for me. He also joins the ranks of YA characters with job ludicrously implausible given their age; in this case; Earth's ambassador to the alien ice planet at 16 years old! 

I really admire this book for the themes it tackles and the message it conveys, unfortunately these were wrapped in too many storytelling knots for me to enjoy it.

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