I loved ‘Stray’, the first part of the Touchstone trilogy, so I moved straight onto part two. And wouldn’t you just know it, the one time I don’t need a ‘Previously on...’ type recap because it’s all fresh in my mind, there one is at the front of the book. And again there’s a glossary and list of characters at the back. If only all authors were so considerate. The previous book had no cliffhanger ending, but there wasn’t much resolution, either - just an acceptance by main character Cass that, having stepped accidentally through some kind of wormhole-type ‘gate’ from Earth and finding herself on a different planet altogether, there’s not going to be a happy ever after any time soon, and doing her bit to help out the locals with their problems in the meantime is not such a bad thing. So at first, the story continues in much the same way, with Cass being carted about on missions, tested and trained, and treated very much like the lab rat she designated herself early on. So for anyone who disliked that aspect of the first book, this is more of the same.
Fortunately, we haven’t yet seen
the full extent of Cass’s unique set of abilities, so even a routine
test can suddenly turn into a frantic scramble for survival or an
ooh-aah moment. The opening up of the abandoned planet of Muina through
Cass’s talents is fascinating. We also see more in this book of the
other societies descended from the abandoned planet of Muina (where Cass
first arrived), so there is a certain amount of inter-planetary
posturing going on, which is quite fun. And Cass becomes a media star!
But much of the action centres around the Setari (psychic ninja space
soldiers, basically), who are defending Tare, their home planet, from
the creepy and highly variable Ionoth which leak through from - well,
wherever they come from (I’m hazy about the ‘spaces’ and ‘pillars’ and
whatever it was that happened). In book one, the Setari mostly treated
Cass as a piece of military equipment, useful but not particularly
interesting, and she had to fight to get them to see her as anything
other than an object. This time round, they are much more aware of her
as a person, and she is beginning to build relationships with some of
them, and assert herself as a person.
Partly this is because she
can speak the language better, so she is able to express herself with
more subtlety, and display her wonderful sense of humour. I very much
like the way the author has handled the language differences, so that
Cass gradually becomes more fluent over the course of the books,
although lapsing sometimes when under stress. I have no idea whether the
early efforts are an accurate simulation of how a native English
speaker would adapt to a new language, but it seemed pretty convincing
to me. I found it totally believable that the Tarens would not
appreciate how intelligent she is, when her only communications are
halting baby sentences with bad grammar.
I like Cass very much.
She’s exactly the sort of person I would love to have for a friend -
smart, self-deprecating, sensible and very, very funny (in a totally
non-vicious way). Her observations of Taren life and the people around
her are wonderful. And I have to confess to having the hots for Ruuel
(the love interest), which is so not me. My taste in men was formed by
Woody Allen (cute and funny) or Robert Redford (roguish in a dishevelled
but handsome way), and perfectly honed, impossibly fit and
laconic-bordering-on-terse types don’t do much for me. But Ruuel? Mmmm,
yes. There’s a certain amount of angsting going on Cass’s head about
him, but it’s very funny. She rates men on the Orlando Bloom-meter, and
when one of the Setari registers a 7, she points out that Orlando Bloom
himself registers a 7 on the Ruuel-meter. Did I mention how much I love
Cass’s sense of humour? And for anyone concerned about the romance
level, it's certainly higher than in the first book, but there’s still a
lot more plot than angst.
This book is pure undiluted pleasure. I
was slightly drunk on the enjoyment of it, and hey - no calories, no
falling over and no hangover afterwards. Just a great big smile. Why
isn’t every book like this? Twelve stars. At least. And now straight on
to the third book...