(2018) Nalini Singh, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, 403pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21761-4.
Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there's a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment--taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he's at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling... That’s the blurb for Nalini Singh’s ‘Ocean Light.
Now, I have to admit, I was brought up on things like John Carter of Mars, where romance was a key driving force behind the action. Come on, even in Star Wars, Luke joins the rebellion because he fancies Leia (I mean… he was on his way to the Academy to train, and the Academy was run by the Empire, right? It was the pretty girl in the hologram that made him join the rebellion.) So I’m happy with a mixture of sci-fi and romance, but shhhh. Don’t tell everyone.
I thought I might be at a disadvantage because I’ve not read the previous sixteen books in the series, but no. Thankfully, the author doesn’t spend page after page recapping previous adventures. There is clearly a lot of back story but this is handled really well and what could have been page after page of info dump is delivered skilfully. We are dropped straight into a good start to the adventure. The main hero back from the dead…. a well written opening…
Which sort of drifts on a lot without achieving much. The truth is, the science fiction parts of Ocean Light are pretty interesting. I can see the author has created a world that the fans enjoy and by number seventeen in the series, they are coming back to something very familiar. But the romance part depends on developing an immediate rapport with the main characters. Bowen Knight seems like a nice enough guy but the main love interest, Kaia, was just a bit too saccharin for my tastes. She’s living below the oceans because her heart has been broken, and she’s a chef. That’s a bit twee/whimsy for my tastes, though I get it’s a personal thing and maybe this underwater Nigella Lawson is the girl of your dreams. She hates Humans, he doesn’t like Changelings…. you can see where it’s going. It’s really not great because it the story is focused on their relationship, not on the underlying action adventure.
So – what could have been a story about a race against time to save the main character from an exploding head becomes a forced romance between two characters I didn’t relate too very much. And it’s a long novel. With dialogue such as ‘you wore your fear like a third soul’.
Overall – well, the novel certainly has appeal and I enjoyed exploring the world. The war between Humans, Psy and Changelings has created an interesting background for the writer to play in. I might even sneak off and read some of the earlier parts of the series. And this is a very well written book, I had many happy hours reading it, the pages kept turning – but I probably wouldn’t start the series by reading this one.
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