by Ann Aguirre
312 pages (galley proof)
Publication Date: February 26, 2008
I won this ARC in a contest on Dear Author a while ago; when it finally arrived in my mailbox, I read the first few pages and ended up finishing the novel by that night. While it's not a novel I'll reread to savor, it serves well as a breezy SF romance that follows some well-worn tropes--admittedly without a lot of creativity.
How to describe the plot? Episodic, in a word (but not mine). The opening bears a certain resemblance to Firefly: Serenity, and I hear from a reliable source that other SF influences are unmistakable. Sirantha Jax, an unusually long-lived "jumper," is the sole survivor of a spaceship crash that killed several crucial dignitaries and her own pilot-lover. She wakes up in the tender care of the Corps, which is more interested in seeing Sirantha safely locked in the madhouse than her safe recovery. March comes to her rescue one day, breaks her out, and introduces her to his ragtag crew. The adventure proceeds from there in the usual space opera fashion, though I would characterize Grimspace as more "baby space opera"--the plot, while tangled and interesting, never quite achieves the tight unity of true space opera. Side characters are introduced, developed, and then tossed carelessly aside as soon as the gang moves on. The ending was surprising and satisfying--10 pages from the end, I had no idea how Sirantha and March were going to get their HEA--but it still felt like a To Be Continued.
The narration is in first-person present tense, an unusual choice for romance that lent suspenseful immediacy and was aided by Sirantha's crisp voice. I strongly believed in the romance, though I can also see how the love triangle could throw people off. As a not-veteran SF reader, I didn't predict much of the plot and the climax in particular was wonderful. Prose is tight, appropriate for this type of novel--no unnecessary description or flowery phrasing. There was perhaps a bit too much exposition, considering that this really is soft SF with "fuzzy" science/technology, not always gracefully meshed. Loras is annoyingly sacrificial, almost a throwaway plot character; the shinai bond disappointed me by taking the easy, cliche route of development. I also missed Keri, who essentially disappears for the latter half of the book, and too bad 245 didn't play a larger role after all the references to her intelligence. In regards to social commentary, a lot of admirable issues were tackled but not pursued to the fullest: slavery, alien-human racial conflict, sexual orientation, the dangers of monopoly.
Ultimately, Grimspace was a solid--not stunning--but nevertheless worthwhile read. I've talked a lot about its flaws, so I feel obligated to add that I did like the book. It's due to be published in a little over a week, but at least one person has already found it on bookstore shelves. Recommended to fans of Catherine Asaro and the SF-romance genre, who don't mind or haven't yet been overexposed to bordering-on-formulaic tropes.