The Power of Two, by Patti O'Shea (2176 #4)

>> Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This is a review I've been meaning to write for over a month now. As I was reading it, I never would have expected for it to turn out to be a difficult book to review, but every time I started to write I found myself stuck and turned to something else.

Anyway, The Power of Two (excerpt), by Patti O'Shea is the fourth book in the 2176 continuity series, coming right after Liz Maverick's somewhat frustrating The Shadow Runners.

Cai Randolph

The UCE: In the 21st and 22nd centuries, the United States changed and grew. Now the United Colonies of Earth dominate the globe. But a mysterious voice is broadcasting treason, inciting revolution and referring to the "Ideals of 1776"—and to an enigmatic figure named Banzai Maguire.

To find Banzai, the UCE assigns Cai. She's the "anchor," the techie half of a Quandem; a pair of elite operatives intended for just such covert action. Neural implants allow her to sit back in a chair and feed information to her partner, the dark-souled Jacob Tucker. He's as rigid as he is deadly...or handsome. But this time, it can't be business as usual. This time, Cai needs Jake to trust her completely. Whether he likes it or not, she can't sit back while he fights the bad guys. Wherever this mission takes her, Cai is going to be the one kicking a little tail.
This one was much better than the last. In fact, I can't decide if TPOT or Kathleen Nance's Day of Fire (book #2) are the best of the lot so far. It's a very solid B+.

Cai Randolph and Jake Tucker are a Quandem: they were part of a UCE military experiment that put implants in their brains to allow them to comunicate with each other even from far away. Cai is the "anchor" in the team. She received a second implant, which allows her to mentally access computers and to process reams of information instantly. Her role is to then convey that information and the results of her powerful analysis to Jake, to help him when he's on the field on a mission.

As the story starts, Cai and Jake have been a Quandem for years, but Jake doesn't know Cai's a woman. He initially assumed she was a computer, and Cai never corrected that impression. Why? Well, it took Jake a while to get the hang of how to block his transmissions when he was feeling intense emotions, and the then 17-year-old Cai got a mental eyeful a few times, so she was too embarrassed to say anything when she realized what Jake was assuming.

But things change when Cai is told she will go with Jake and his team in a mission to the Raft Cities. Cai really, really wants to go (in fact, she more or less arranged for the powers-that-be to find the information that made this mission happen), because she has long suspected her parents, who disappeared a few years earlier, were kidnapped and are being held there. Unfortunately, it's up to Jake to okay her inclusion in the mission, and Cai knows he'll need some convincing when he realizes who she is.

Jake is extremely surprised when this beautiful young woman tells him she's Cai, and his first reaction is to feel betrayed. But various circumstances convince him that it's best for him to take her along, and so off they go to the Raft cities, where among constant dangers, their friendship turns into something else.

This is the best kind of futuristic romance, one where the adventurous plot and fascinating world-building are equally important and equally well done as the romance.

Cai and Jake are great characters. They themselves aren't anything I haven't read before (Cai's a former child-prodigy whose passage through school and college among much older classmates, who resented her for screwing up the curve, did a number on her self-esteem, and Jake's a pretty standard military hero), but their brain implants added a very interesting intimacy to their relationship. Also, even though Jake at first resents Cai for tricking him, as he sees it, and is embarrassed that she saw all those intimate moments, these two soon become friends, and it's from that point that there relationship develops into becoming lovers, something I very much appreciated.

I was also very impressed with the world-building here, which was miles better than that of the two other books I've read by O'Shea. As much as I enjoyed Ravyn's Flight and its sequel, Eternal Nights, their settings were a little bit corny. Not so the Raft Cities in TPOT.

The Raft Cities, are basically what was left of the currently sea-level Maldives when global warming increased the level of the oceans a bit: a collection of rafts of various sizes, and a refuge of pirates and all kinds of criminals. O'Shea paints a very intriguing picture, creating an enjoyably dangerous atmosphere.

There's nothing here that I disliked, really, only something I was a bit ambivalent about, and that was what Jake and Cai's mission was all about: capturing Banzai Maguire. Both have some doubts about their government's actions, but they're military, so no matter how they feel about their mission, they do it, and to the best of their abilities. *sigh* That's why I tend to stay away from military romance.

Before I close this review, I should also mention that TPOT stands alone quite well. You'd do better reading it if you've read the rest of the books, of course, but you don't need to remember every detail of them to understand it. In fact, even if this is the first 2176 book that you try, you'll probably understand it well enough.

So now there's only Susan Grant's The Scarlett Empress left in this series. I've got high hopes for it. Grant also wrote the first book in the series, The Legend of Banzai Maguire, and that one was interesting, though the world-building was much better than the romance, which felt a bit shallow. I'm hoping now that the world has been established and Grant will have more space for the romance, this aspect will be even better.


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