Author: Jackson Ford
UK Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Science Fantasy, contemporary fiction, humour, crime
Teagan Frost is having a hard time keeping it together. Sure, she’s got telekinetic powers — a skill that the government is all too happy to make use of, sending her on secret break-in missions that no ordinary human could carry out. But all she really wants to do is kick back, have a beer, and pretend she’s normal for once.
But then a body turns up at the site of her last job — murdered in a way that only someone like Teagan could have pulled off. She’s got 24 hours to clear her name – and it’s not just her life at stake. If she can’t unravel the conspiracy in time, her hometown of Los Angeles will be in the crosshairs of an underground battle that’s on the brink of exploding…
You may be shocked to hear that the title of this book was what first grabbed my attention, given how understated and innocuous it is.
There’s a real sense of fun about this book. It throws you right into the action as soon as it opens, with the team in the middle of a heist. You get to see the characters under stress and with their relationships strained from the get-go, which allows you to get a great sense of their dynamics but also what the status quo is – who is friends with who, and what the pressure points are. It’s also a great way to establish the limits of Teagan’s powers. She can only move things that are inorganic, within 10 feet of her, and which weigh less than 300lbs. Using her powers exhausts her, so when a miscalculation on the heist forces her to push them to the very limit, she’s tapped out as the story begins – which makes for a very interesting dynamic, and means she discovers more about herself and her abilities because circumstances force her to strain beyond her means. It’s also interesting that a team has been built around her, but she is not the focal point – if anything, she’s viewed as a liability, the handicap from making the team as effective as they could be, even though no-one else wants to be there either.
It’s not often you find a story which starts with the protagonist already at the end of her reserves, and for me it really added to the dynamic. That, and the fact that the main plot takes place over a period of less than 24 hours, makes for an extremely fact-paced and gripping read. There are very few moments when the characters get to stop and rest, and those are generally short-lived when they happen.
This isn’t a fantasy book – it’s science fantasy perhaps more along the lines Dark Angel. We’re drip-fed information through Teagan’s narrative and it becomes clear that the reason she has these powers is because of her parents and the genetic experiments they conducted on her – although no-one can say why making these changes to her DNA has given her these powers, and she has baffled any other scientists who have tried to explain it. She’s also convinced, completely and utterly, that she is the only person with powers in the world. Evidently the plot suggests otherwise.
There are two voices in this timeline – Teagan’s, which is first person and full of her stubborn, persistent personality; and Jake, who she is trying to find, even though she has no idea he exists. His narrative is third person, and very introspective – he is a philosopher and a historian, and you get the impression he is not naturally a violent person, but he is lonely and increasingly desperate. Whilst Teagan’s story is a murder mystery thriller, Jake’s is a tragedy of almost Shakespearean quality. He begins with no ill intentions, but things escalate beyond his control. Ford does an excellent job of making him a very sympathetic character, and as the book charges on, you find yourself hoping that Teagan will find him soon and perhaps things might have a chance of ending well.
The narrative absolutely bombs along, because it is set over such a short time frame. It’s a brave storytelling choice, restricting the bulk of the action to a single day, and whilst that could make things seem rushed, the two contrasting narratives of Teagan and Jake balance each other out to keep the pace steady. In fact, at points perhaps it felt the opposite – there were scenes which felt a little slow, but I think this is mostly because the urgency throughout means that any scene that isn’t just them collapsing with exhaustion is a waste of precious time. Whilst that can be frustrating as a reader, it also perhaps speaks to how gripping the plot is.
Teagan as a protagonist is unusual, in that she isn’t a teenager – she’s 21. But her life was so sheltered and disconnected from the rest of the world, she seems like a teenager. Part of that might also be that her life is in the hands of someone else, and she feels like nothing she does really matters because her time and very existence are all potentially limited anyway; but we also see her dreams for a future that is entirely her own, where she runs her own restaurant, and those moments really soften her and help round her out as a character.
It becomes clear that this is the first in a series, and I think the sequels will really help develop the world, but also allow us to see Teagan grow and develop in light of the backstory which is revealed during this novel. There is a lot of ground to cover, backstory-wise, between Teagan, her crew, and Jake. It never feels exposition-heavy, although some of Jake’s reminiscing can be a bit longer than perhaps grips the interest, and the biggest twists and reveals are saved for when they will be the most effective. They pack a punch.
I’m looking forward to the next in the series and seeing where Ford takes the story from here.
- A fast-paced, but still fun science fantasy story, with elements of murder mystery and conspiracy thriller all piled up inside it. A variety of narrative techniques mixes up the pace and makes it a very easy read.
- Teagan is probably not a character for everyone – she has a bold personality, and it informs her narrative voice. It took me a while to settle into her, but once I did I enjoyed the rhythms and style, although some of the pop culture references felt a little forced or jarring at times.
- It’s a great use of restricted timeframe to build the story structure, and I’m looking forward to seeing what techniques Ford uses in future books. Whether he chooses to keep the same structure to show us the world in small flashes or try experimenting with something new to allow himself time to expand things at a leisurely pace.
Rating: 4/5 – a great first start to a series, which promises to have a lot in common with Dark Angel, a series I absolutely loved.