Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams

Every once in a while, I encounter a book that takes me a long time to read. Some books I practically devour whole, and some books I take in bits and pieces. Since Lord of the Rings was one of those "bits and pieces" books, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Unfortunately, I think Mirrored Heavens is meant to be a can't-put-it-down thriller.

The story centers around eight people in three groups. Jason Marlowe is a mech, a fighting specialist who wears high-tech armor. Fans of Battletech will cheer, but these mechs are closer to man-sized. Claire Haskell is a razor, or a hacking specialist. Her job is to be inside Jason's head while he is on the offensive, clearing the way by electronically getting him past checkpoints, hacking codes or whatever. She's sort of like R2D2, except she's human. Mostly. These two form one group. Morat is Claire's puppetmaster, and he pops up from time to time.

Then we have The Operative, who is referred to this way throughout the novel, even though we are given his name fairly early on. The Operative is another mech, but he seems special. His job is to take out Sarmax, his former mentor, and another mech, of course. Lynx is The Operative's razor. These three form another group.

Finally, we have the repuganat Lineham. I think he's a mech. He's stolen some data, and he needs help escaping the USA. He'll kill anything that gets in his way. He goes to Spencer, who is a sort of an entrepreneurial razor, and basically blackmails him into helping.

Everyone is wired, not just razors. Razors are practically cyborgs, but mechs must be wired as well, for the razors to be able to communicate with them.

I'm going to have a hard time summing up the plot. It begins with Claire going to a place in Brazil where she's trying to tap into an ancient part of the Zone--a sort of futuristic Internet--looking for certain information. At the same time, Marlowe is dispatched on an unknown mission, as is The Operative. The Operative is going to the moon, but on his way up he watches as the Space Elevator--which is still being built--is blown up all along its length.

And so begins an all-out war between the east and west. No, wait. Between everyone and everyone else.

Claire is caught up in the chaos and Marlowe ends up being sent to rescue her. And from then on, the plot never slows down to take a breath.

Everyone is tough as nails, and talks with clipped, edgy speech. In fact, one of the things I found difficult about the novel was how alike everyone sounded. I was grateful for the frequent dialog tags.

"Do you believe in God? says Lineham.
"I'll believe in anything that'll get us out of this."
"Me neither," snarls Lineham.
. . .
"Tell me what this was all about," says Spencer.
"Tell me what it wasn't," says Lineham.
And yet, somehow they're still alive . . .
When you really shouldn't be.
"We're still intact," says Spencer.
"We're still running, says Lineham.
"Like I said."
"I mean we're still running."
I also had a hard time feeling any empathy for any of the characters. A bit more humanity would have helped. It was as if they were so wired that they wired out what made them individuals.

Chapters are short. The book is written in present tense. The chapters alternate between the three groups, with each group always appearing in the same sequence. Each chapter has a set of icons that symbolize who is appearing in that chapter. The end of one chapter often leads into the next, such as:
"You don't know the half of it," says Leo Sarmax.
(chapter break)
But they're starting to get the idea.
This doesn't happen every chapter, but it happened often enough to be noticable. I consider these little touches to be the mark of an artist.

There were two surprises in the end. One that was set up for the reader, giving me an "I-should-have-seen-it-coming moment, and the other, larger surprise coming out of the blue. I think I needed a bit more set-up for the second surprise. Which, when I contemplate the novel's only sex scene, maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise after all. My favorite character died, and I have mixed feelings about the events leading up to his death. He acted a bit out of character, in my opinion. I always have a hard time with conversions, or instances where the character changes his mind. I realize it happens in real life all the time, but in fiction, I think it needs to be well-explained and rational.

I come away with mixed feelings about this novel. In one instance, it's a bit too gritty for my taste. Even the sex scene was gritty. But in the other instance, it is is unique and well-crafted. If you like cyber-thrillers and hard-hitting action, then this one might be worth a read.

Mirrored Heavens at Amazon (USA, UK, Canada)


Janet said...

I'm glad you're reviewing, Tia. You tend to like and dislike the same kind of things I do. While I've read and enjoyed books that work primarily on the level of plot, they're so much better with a rich characterization.

Tia Nevitt said...

Thank you so much! That means a lot. I definitely like character focused stories the best. It's the characters I fall in love with, not the plot. I'll forgive a weak plot if the characters are lovable.

Raven said...

I'm another fan of rich characterization. Part of the beauty of a novel is that you can delve into the characters' inner thoughts and feelings. If a writer isn't taking me there, I'm less likely to pick up anything else by that writer.

ediFanoB said...

Your review convinced me that this is not a book for me.

You must know I use reviews to build upmy mind. And for this your review was very helpful.

To keep it short: Good job!