Title: Grimspace (Sirantha Jax, #1)
Author: Ann Aguirre
Rating: 4 Stars
It's official: I am a fan of Ann Aguirre. Granted, my first foray into the works of Aguirre was a disaster, to say the least, but I've finally concluded that her YA novels just aren't for me. On the other hand, her work for adults is superb. First Bronze Gods and now this utterly delicious start to what is sure to be a fantastic series. Consider me sold.
Grimspace is space opera at its best, a genre that mixes science fiction and urban fantasy to deliver fast-paced action-packed adventures full of airships, multiple planets, aliens, and - my personal favorite - genetic engineering. In the world Aguirre creates, rare individuals born with a J-Gene are indispensable and used to jump through grimspace. Sirantha Jax is an anomaly among her kind, thirty-three years old and still jumping successfully unlike the countless others who have burned out young. Now, however, Jax is the sole survivor of a crash - one in which she lost her best friend and lover, Kai - and unable to remember the details of that event, she is kept in a psychiatric ward. Enter: March. A hard, inscrutable mind-reader (of a kind), March offers Jax a position with his crew to jump with them and help other planets. Needless to say, Jax takes the opportunity to escape her prison and before she knows it, she's on the run.
Hands down, one of the best aspects of Grimspace is its heroine itself. Sirantha Jax isn't a kick-ass fighter-esque chick the way Katniss is, but she knows how to hold her own and her sharp tongue, unexpected honesty, and sass make her a thoroughly enjoyable narrator. Furthermore, her back story and present psychological situation make for a perplexing and unusually deep character. Additionally, her relationship with March is so twisted and unusual, filled with two individuals who are broken, but who don't necessarily heal each other. If anything, they understand one another and manage to retain their individuality. Furthermore, March is a hero in his own right, one who tries to atone for his past sins through a better present and this only makes him all the more attractive. Although theirs was an unconventional relationship that took on a different arc than most, it fit them perfectly and I've fallen for this scarred pairing. (Not to mention I am all for couples who do NOT look like they've walked off a runway. I don't know anyone who looks like that in real life and neither does my mirror.)
Grimspace is a perfect blend of depth and action, a character-driven novel with plenty of world-building, rich secondary characters, and on-the-run chases to keep us flipping the pages frantically. While there isn't a cliffhanger of any sort, there is that pleasant ache when you finish the book - the kind that makes you want to come back for more. And more of this I will be having. I will.
Title: Wanderlust (Sirantha Jax, #2)
Author: Ann Aguirre
Rating: 3 Stars
Wanderlust reminded me, unfortunately, of why it is I prefer stand-alones to sequels. As a follow-up to Grimspace, this book only disappoints. From the beginning itself, the story is slower, full of unnecessary details by the first third that only slow down the narration. Jax herself soon becomes irritating, chock-full of contradictions and repeating her thoughts too much for me to enjoy. Sirantha is a complex heroine, one whose paranoia and fear make her seem vulnerable when she truly is an iron core. And striking this balance isn't easy. Granted, Sirantha had her fair share of panic moments in Grimspace, but she also grew immensely as a character. With Wanderlust, her fear is still present - almost too potent - and her neediness irritated me. While I appreciated the direction Aguirre took with her character plot, separating her from March and allowing her to form close friendships with new secondary characters, I still never felt the same sense of growth from her.
Furthermore, the romance this time around is flat-out annoying. It's the third worst romance trope of we-should-stay-away-for-your-own-good (right after love triangles and insta-love if you were wondering). And while that may work in some situations, it doesn't work in this one. Especially as March and Jax go through a period of drama, get back together, and then logically separate. Honestly, their relationship goes nowhere in this one, running around in circles. Where I loved their complex relationship in the predecessor, this novel doesn't do much except to shed light on the fact that even March cannot deal with all of Jax's mood swings - and thank god for that. Sirantha Jax isn't an easy character - or person - to like, but there are certain qualities about her that keep people loyal to her. While the end of this novel ties up the relationship between March and Jax on a much more realistic footing than the ending of Grimspace did, I certainly did not enjoy all the drama it took to get there.
And, lastly, I can't not mention the fact that this series is one of those where a certain degree of belief suspension is required. Certain events happen that are too convenient, but you have to look past that. For the most part, this is easy. Aguirre's writing flows with sassy dialogue and close friendships, which is really what saved this novel for me. I may not have liked Wanderlust, but I plan to give this series one more book before completely giving up on it. Hopefully, Sirantha Jax will charm me again. *fingers crossed*
Title: Doublebind (Sirantha Jax, #3)
Author: Ann Aguirre
Rating: 5 Stars
It probably comes as a surprise that prior to picking up this novel, I was very nearly finished with this series. Wanderlust was a sorry companion to the kick-ass series that Grimspace promised and I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to continue - especially when the path ahead seemed to be littered with angst, drama, and unnecessary situations. Thankfully, though, I took a gamble on Doublebind and am so glad I did. Unsurprisingly, this installment will not be a favorite among all readers, mostly because it revolves around space politics - which, I know, seems like a snooze, but believe me, it really isn't. If anything, this is the best of the series so far and I can only hope the future installments continue this level of excellence.
One of the best aspects of this novel is the growth that Sirantha both exhibits and undergoes. Gone is the carefree girl she once may have been and gone is also the insecure girl we've known. Sirantha is still very much chock-full of her flaws and doubts, but she has learned to steel herself to the world. Now, truly, she is pushed and tested to the limits, both diplomatically and personally. In prior novels, we've seen Jax break down and seek comfort from March, who has always been her rock solid wall. Now, however, March is no longer there for her, suffering from his own inner demons and struggling to find his humanity again. Seeing Jax pull up her socks to save both herself, her mission, and her man was a huge turn-around for her - and a hurdle that was necessary, though difficult, to cross. Doublebind exposes a far more delicate and vulnerable relationship between Jax and March than we've seen before, but it is still just as strong, just as durable, and just as lovely.
And yet, the true show-stealers of this novel are the secondary characters, particularly Vel. Traveling to Vel's home planet, we slowly uncover more and more of Vel's past and come to see him as more than merely Jax's best friend, but as a character in his own right. Vel has endured far more than we could ever imagine and, surely, he has risen to becoming one of my favorite characters in this series, notwithstanding March. Dina and Hit, too, become more fully realized in this novel and as a whole, this group has become one of my favorites. Their loyalty, support for one another, and range of emotions is widespread and real. Aguirre manages to draw you into the lives of her characters, though they're in a distant planet in space. Truly, if that isn't the best you can ask for from a book then I don't know what is.
Summer Series Reading Challenge: 13