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Off On A Tangent: Novel Reviews
by Dave Truesdale

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Off On A Tangent: Novel Reviews columns.]

Impulse
Steven Gould
Tor, 368 pages

Impulse

Impulse is the third novel in the author's highly regarded Jumper series, the first being 1992's Jumper and the sequel being 2004's Reflex. Jumper was made into the 2008 film of the same name and starred Samuel L. Jackson and Diane Lane.

Now comes early 2013 and Impulse. "Jumping" refers to the ability to teleport, which young Davy Rice discovers in Jumper when he teleports away from his abusive father quite by accident. In Reflex, Davy is now grown and has found a wife, Millie, who also can teleport. Davy is on the run from the government whose only desire is to exploit his powerful ability, but soon enough finds himself captured and tortured by a criminal terrorist organization who has also learned of his ability and has some sort of shady power over certain government agencies. Having survived, Davy and Millie must now endeavor to live "off the grid" as much as is humanly possible (assumed names, fake personal documents, judicious teleporting), for there are certain evil interests still hunting them who will stop at nothing to discover their whereabouts. Being able to teleport is tricky business and does not make one immune from danger, as the author makes clear, and reinforces, in each of the books. Being able to teleport paints a large bullseye on one's back, altering every aspect of your life in unimaginable ways.

Impulse begins years after the close of Reflex, as Davy and Millie now have a teenaged daughter, Millicent, nicknamed Cent. Davy has purchased, dirt-cheap, an isolated arctic hunting lodge from a ruined billionaire, where he and Millie live, home-schooling Cent. Davy and Millie are cultured and well-educated, as is Cent. The youngster is quite bright and for the most part responsible to a fault (for a teenager). But Cent lacks social contact with others her age and resents being cooped up, hidden, because of her parents' need to remain reclusive, and this leads to trouble.

Cent disobeys her father's warning about snowboarding on a hill near their arctic lodge, and when an avalanche occurs and she is about to be buried alive, she suddenly finds herself back in her bedroom surrounded by a pile of melting snow. The dire nature of the accident has triggered her own ability to teleport, which she has been unable to do to this point, teleporting around the globe only when in contact with either of her parents, primarily her mother, who flits around the planet doing aid and relief work in underdeveloped countries. Cent hides the fact of her newly discovered ability to teleport from her parents.

After a family discussion, it is decided to purchase a second home in the American southwest in a friendly small town with a nice high school for Cent. It is at this point that the storyline takes off as we follow Cent's first days at her new high school, the friends she makes, and an enemy she makes in the form of one girl who runs a drug ring and is as nasty and mean a person as you're likely to meet. We're talking physically dangerous, blackmailing, sexually abusive mean. Mean enough to do anything to be rid of Cent, including attempted murder.

All of the story elements are now in place. Cent must learn to control her new found ability to teleport though she has yet to inform her parents of same, for she has acquired the gift due to disobeying her father and fears his reprisal. She finds herself confronting a whole new set of teenage problems in her new school (fitting in, making new friends, incurring jealousy because she is a star student -- and boys), all compounded by the wrath she has garnered from the Alpha Female running the drug ring and her gang of strong-arm bullies who guard their turf mercilessly. How Cent handles trying to save her blackmailed friends, dealing with her parents who do eventually find out about her ability to teleport, all the while hiding her secret from the rest of the world (remember there are Others out there still searching for her father with sophisticated means of doing so, and should Cent through inexperience leave a trail...), forms the central core of this surprisingly engaging read.

Steven Gould gets high marks for capturing how intelligent, involved parents handle the problems not only a normal teenager in real life must confront, but how even a well brought-up "normal" teenager (as normal as one can be with the ability to teleport) deals with these same problems while hiding a secret from her parents. Gould gives us both sides with an understanding touch and does an admirable job. His ability to capture these mundane yet (generally) universal issues concerned with raising any teenager (those of trust, honesty, and responsibility) make this an excellent reason for both parents and young adults to enjoy this book.

Another surprise for this reader was the truly dark turn the story took with the high school drug ring. The blackmailing of several male students by the Alpha Female via video-taped abusive sexual incidents was an eye-opener, and made the story much more than merely the story of how the new girl in school makes new friends and assimilates. Real danger is present here, with lives on the line, and this added element ratchets the stakes up for Cent as she fumbles with her new ability and even discovers how to use it in a much more precise but dangerous way (she's clever, smart, and knows her basic physics).

Steven Gould's previous Jumper books have received much praise and justly so, and Impulse -- while going in a decidedly different direction -- lives up to the high standard of the previous entries. Impulse is a breath of fresh air. For once we have parents who are intelligent, well-educated, and are not alcoholic child abusers or molesters, and an equally smart and well-schooled teenager who must confront and overcome many of the usual social problems of any teenager, and more.

Even well-to-do, well-educated, responsible parents and teenagers (with what might appear to some to have not a care in the world) suffer serious life problems with which they must deal. Life plays no favorites and cares not if one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate. It's about time someone provided such positive role models in science fiction as are found here, for they are few and far between. Steven Gould does so and Impulse is the book in which they can be found.

Firebrand: Rebel Angels (Book One)
Gillian Philip
Tor, 368 pages

Firebrand: Rebel Angels (Book One)

First published in the UK in 2010 to widespread acclaim, Gillian Philip's Firebrand, the first in her Rebel Angels series, comes to the United States via acquisition by Tor. It was a finalist for the David Gemmell Legend Award as Best Fantasy of 2010.

Taking place in both the faery realm of the Sithe (whose folk are nigh immortal) and the human world of the 16th century (where witch-hunts and religious persecution abound), the Veil, the shield separating and protecting the Sithe world from that of mortals is decaying, and there is dissension and a plot internal to the Sithe to make certain it fails, destroying the proud faery realm forever.

This first book centers on young Sithe Seth MacGregor, younger half-brother to his older sibling Conal, who alone treats Seth with respect and kindness. Seth's mother Leonora has abandoned him to live with his father in the outlands, while she has chosen to live at court as an influential advisor to Queen Kate NicNiven, leaving Seth to live in the shadow of Conal, whom everyone adores, including the ladies and a young girl Seth fancies. When Conal argues with the queen following the assassination of his father and is banished for a period of time to the mortal world (where everyone ages much more quickly), Seth follows Conal. Soon enough they are fighting for their lives as objects of a witch-hunt in this backward age of ignorance, brutality, and poverty.

The story transitions between the two realms well, supplying plot points advancing both stories -- that of the impending war and villainy afoot in the land of faery, and that of the brutality and squalor of the human realm and the plights of Seth, Conal, and a young girl accused of witchcraft with whom they have become involved -- said details also serving to reinforce the bleak emotional tone put forth for both realms, the atmosphere fortified with several battle scenes portrayed in grisly, but not gratuitous fashion. This is down and dirty storytelling that pulls no punches, lending the story a gritty verisimilitude many a hardcore fantasy reader will find difficult to resist.

Beneath the over-arching storyline of those who desire the Veil destroyed and those trying to maintain it, Firebrand is, as noted, really the story of Seth. We see him grow from the younger, ignored, rather bitter and overlooked brother always in Conal's shadow, to a young man who has been forced to grow up quickly in both the mortal and faery worlds, who has shown bravery and fidelity, and who learns about love and responsibility from the young woman he believed was in love with Conal.

Packed with Machiavellian court intrigue of the most cold-blooded sort, horrible monster-beings from the realm of faery in league with Queen Kate, and the looming threat of the world of faery possibly destroyed forever, Firebrand is a fresh and welcome reimagining of oft-worked ground first laid out by Lord Dunsany and, as Dunsany wrote, far "beyond the fields we know."

Bloodstone, the second in the Rebel Angels series, is soon to follow, and I'd actually rather like to find out what happens next.

Copyright © 2013 Dave Truesdale

Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award four times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.


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