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Death Storm
Anne Knight
DAW Books, 455 pages

Death Storm
Anne Knight
Anne Knight is a pen name for Rhondi Vilott Salsitz. She also writes under the names Elizabeth Forrest and Charles Ingrid.

Rhondi Vilott Salsitz Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Rhondi Vilott Salsitz
ISFDB Bibliography: Anne Knight
ISFDB Bibliography: Elizabeth Forrest
ISFDB Bibliography: Charles Ingrid

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Though it contains a few science fictional elements (well, okay, one: recombinant DNA), Anne Knight's novel Death Storm is basically a paranormal thriller, of the type made popular by Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

In the USA, Victoria Hansen and her son Drew live a precarious existence, always at the mercy of Lou, Victoria's abusive husband. Drew isn't Lou's son, but the product of a brief and blissful love affair while Victoria was still in her teens. In most ways, Drew is a normal American teenager, with a love of the Internet and a gift for sports. But in one sense he isn't normal at all. Drew possesses a mysterious Power he is only just beginning to understand: to draw storms, to control them and focus their fury.

In post-Soviet Russia, Irina Doraskaya is a possession as valuable as gold to the gangsters who have kidnapped her. The product of a Soviet program to breed telekinetic psychics, she has all Drew's Power and more, including the ability to kill a person from within. She has been brought up to be cold, emotionless: only this way, her creators believe, can she be effective in the terrible things they want her to do. But Irina does have feelings: she's lonely. First on the Internet, then in dreams, she makes contact with Drew, drawn to him by the Power they both possess.

Irina is being hunted -- by Arkady Valnikov, himself a graduate of the Soviets' paranormal research programs. When Irina's gangster keepers bring her to America, as part of a plot to sabotage an important economic conference, Arkady follows. Meanwhile, Drew and Victoria have embarked on their own odyssey, fleeing from Lou's brutality. Inexorably, all these individual quests converge, while a huge death-storm builds above California.

Death Storm starts promisingly, with evocative scene-setting and some good characterization. Drew and Irina are appealing protagonists; Drew's anger and confusion, rooted in a basic wholesomeness, are nicely conveyed, as is the loneliness of Irina's bleak existence and the pain she feels as she is mistreated by her caretakers. The description of the teens' Powers is effective, especially Irina's ability to do physical harm, which for her is a way of defending herself against a hostile and exploitive world.

But as the plot gathers steam, it also loses coherence. Some things are never properly explained -- such as exactly why Drew's new friend Sylvia and her colleagues, who seem to be part of an organization of some sort (it's hard to tell), are so knowledgeable about psychic powers. The scientific stuff at the bottom of it all (recombinant DNA, remember?) is dealt with in a few paragraphs of authorial handwaving, which add more confusion than they resolve. By the time all the different factions finally collide, it's difficult to tell who is doing what and why. Two-dimensional secondary characters, an unlikely romance, and a contrived plot twist at the end don't help matters, nor does some occasionally silly writing: for instance, Russian characters whose speech is rendered in perfect English, but who say "da" and "nyet".

My advice: stick to Koontz.

Copyright © 1999 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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