Shadow Touch, by Marjorie M. Liu

>> Wednesday, November 01, 2006

After reading the wonderful Tiger Eye, I immediately grabbed the other Marjorie M. Liu book I had in my TBR: Shadow Touch (excerpt, extras).

Elena Baxter can work miracles with her hands. She can coax bones to knit, flesh to heal. She can mend the mind. She has been doing such work for almost all of her twenty-eight years. That is why she will be taken.

The media called it a rampage of terror, the recent murders. But fighting crime is why Artur Loginov joined Dirk & Steele. The international detective agency specializes in the impossible, and their creed is simple: Help those in need, no matter how difficult, and no matter what, keep the secret safe. For the agency helps its employees, too; people like Artur -- the gifted, the tormented. Dirk & Steele gave the Russian émigré purpose, protection, community...and refuge from his past, for who can trust a man who can start a fire with his mind, or shape-shift, or read others' thoughts as easily as drawing breath? For his similar talent, Artur will be taken.

Into the darkness Elena and Artur will be drawn, into the clutches of evil. Cornered, isolated, caged, they will fight for their very souls. But salvation awaits. it exists in a form least expected: a dream of a face, a brush of a mind, the hint of a kiss, and finally, at long last, a shadow touch.
Shadow Touch was quieter and gloomier than Tiger Eye, but it was almost as good. A B+.

If you've read TI, you'll probably remember Artur Loginov, the former Russian mafiya assassin, now a member of Dirk & Steele, whose particular talent is a type of psychometry. Artur can "read" any object that he touches, something very useful for his agency. Unfortunately, such a talent would also be useful for other, less scrupulous individuals, and as ST starts, Artur is kidnapped by an organization called the Consortium, who want him to work for them. He refuses, but he's locked up in their interrogation facility / lab, where his captors will do their best to break him.

But Artur's not the only psychically gifted person held in the facility. He soon runs across Elena Baxter, a young woman who can use her hands and mind to heal any sickness, even the most deadly, a talent the wheelchair-bound boss of the Consortium is very interested in. And while Elena and Artur are not often in physical contact, they manage to establish a bond that will help them through their captivity, and even escape.

ST has two very distinct halves, each of which was excellent, for different reasons.

The first half, with Artur and Elena in this shadowy facility, being tortured mentally and physically and experimented upon, was among the creepiest, most disturbing things I've ever read in a romance novel. It would have been difficult enough to read on its own, but I had just been reading a series of articles on the "disappeared" from my country and Argentina's military dictatorships, including accounts of people's experiences in an infamous torture centre. Reading ST right after that probably increased the creepiness a hundredfold, because certain elements had some uncomfortable paralellisms.

In this part, Artur and Elena's relationship progresses mainly through the mental bond they now share, and I loved the way Liu wrote this. She managed to create some very believable chemistry and attraction through this connection, as well as to make me believe that these two hurt, tortured people needed each other to heal.

The second part, once they get out of this facility, is different in tone, and becomes more of a road adventure romance. The escapees find themselves in... should I say? We only find out where we are half-way through the book, so it might qualify as a kind of spoiler. Bah, it's not much of a spoiler, and huge clues are plastered right on the cover, so... Russia! Elena and Artur find themselves in Vladivostok, on Russia's Eastern tip (map), from where they're going to need to get to Moscow to foil the Consortium's evil plans. And they won't just need to escape their pursurers; there's also the risk that Artur's past will catch up with him.

Liu does adventure wonderfully, making it fast-paced but still giving us enough quiet moments for the romance to develop believably. And I very much enjoyed the setting. Like the Beijing of Tiger Eye, Liu's Russia is a very vivid, well-drawn Russia. Even better: Vladivostok, the train and Moscow each have their own distinctive personalities.

The only negative I can mention in this book is certain aspects of the Consortium, especially the motivation behind it. There's a complicated explanation near the end about the Dirk & Steele's history and about the origin of Beatrix Weave's obsession, with an ominous portent of things to come, and I'm still not clear on exactly what that was all about. Maybe I'm stupid, maybe I was reading too fast, but I didn't understand. Oh, and another thing I didn't understand: just what was Rictor? Should I have figured it out from what is said in the book? Because I didn't...

Eh, well, I'm probably going to find out more in the next books in the series. So far only a single title (Red Heart of Jade) and a short story (in Dark Dreamers) are out, and I hope I can get to them soon.


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