Monday, July 30, 2012
Review: Fighting Gravity by Leah Petersen
Fighting Gravity by Leah Petersen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received a review copy of this book from the author. I'm afraid I'm about to prove that not having to pay for a book doesn't bias me in its favor.
There were some really strong parts of this book. The middle section is a tense page-turner, and I found the characters well-developed. But the first section, before the introduction of the Emperor, and the last couple of chapters, sagged. The worldbuilding was good, except that I had questions about the world I felt could've been answered in the narrative.
The story follows Jacob Dawes, an "unclass" boy from one of the worst slums in Mexico. He's recruited into a prestigious academy in an unprecedented move. Unclass people don't just go to the IIC, apparently, and Jacob pays for it in unjust punishment by his teachers and the head of the academy.
Then he makes a scientific breakthrough, and suddenly everyone respects him. There's an implication his edge is that he has a convenient form of synesthesia, which allows him to see patterns that others are blind to. If that's the case, though, it wasn't fleshed out or consistent enough, leading me to the uncomfortable feeling I was dealing with a Gary Stu.
The book improves after the introduction of the Emperor, but there were more questions. I could never figure out if the Emperor was a mere figurehead, a symbol of a united galaxy. If he was truly needed to run the Empire, he had an awful lot of free time. If he was just a figurehead, he had an awful lot of power.
Then a romantic relationship develops between Jacob and the Emperor. I believed the relationship, and I thought the barriers between them were realistic and well-developed. That was the strongest part of the book, in my view, but it still left me with questions. No one batted an eye at the Emperor's same-sex relationship, unless they were so horrified by the thought of homosexuality that Jake goads a high-ranking Duke by implying he's trying for the same. If this future Empire has a more open-minded view of same-sex relationships, why is it still associated with weakness to the point where an accusation of such would justify hitting someone?
The ease of solving the main conflict actually detracts from the tension in the middle, which was disappointing. The ending is also far more drawn out than it needs to be. I'd gotten the idea we were dealing with a happily ever after long before it's spelled out. There's also a scene towards the end that implies Jacob hasn't learned a thing from everything he's been through.
This book is a romance with science fiction trappings, but the science fiction and future technology elements are often shied away from. They're background. The sexual element, too, while strong in emotion, is scant on explicit detail. That was actually a relief, as it put the focus on the characters' emotions, rather than their physical gratification. This was not a story about people falling in lust; it was about love in an unrecognizable setting. Due to the science-fiction-lite description, I'd be more comfortable calling this a fantasy setting.
I had to look up the publisher before I could write my review, because the editing seemed inadequate. Sentence fragments abound, as do comma splices. Even if the above questions couldn't have been answered, surely a professional publisher should've noticed the grammar issues. To my surprise, the publisher is a well-established one that has discovered several reputable science fiction and fantasy authors.
This is Leah Petersen's debut. The writing mechanics can be fixed. She has the elements of a successful book, here. Hopefully in future novels, she'll also have the presentation down.
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