The Challenge

The Quest by Susan Kearney
(Tor, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-765-35499-7
Very rarely does it take me two weeks to read a book. Okay, replace rarely with never - seriously folks, I read the Harry Potter books in one evening. So, believe me when I tell you that this is the longest book I've ever read. No, it isn't that 323 pages are interminably long, it's that The Quest was one of the most boring things I've ever read.

Angel Taylor is a space captain on a simple salvage mission. Raised as an earthling charity case, she has one priority: self-reliance. Angel's mission is to get in, get the Vagan ship and get out. But things go drastically wrong when she realizes her bounty has a stowaway - a very handsome Rystani named Kirek. Kirek is a warrior out to save the Federation from the Zin, a nasty half-man/half-machine race that will soon destroy the galaxy. Their conflicting goals are quickly reconciled when Angel realizes that once Kirek destroys the Zin, someone will have salvage rights over their metal planet - and that someone could be her.

Sounds cool, doesn't it? It's not, honestly. Kearney's concept of space, and its inhabitants, seems great on the surface. After all, there is mention of a computer who turned herself human and learned to love, planets made of metal and an agoraphobic couple on Angel's ship. The problem is that all of these are just barely mentioned. There is no solid world building, just quick descriptions that leave the story almost without a setting and our heroes without a community. And what background that there is (The Raven, Angel's ship) is never described in detail, despite there being a wealth of places the author could go with this one.

I also felt that the use of psychic powers, or "psi" was sort of a cop-out and only distracted from the story. One minute the two are fully clothed, the next he's used his psi to turn her clothing invisible. It didn't make the sex scenes any hotter, it just forced me to ponder the logistics of the situation and come to some unsettling conclusions. Luckily, dear reader, I'll spare you.

The psi wasn't just weird, it also made me hate Kirek. Well, not hate because I never became too invested in either character. Kirek uses his powers over and over again to invade Angel's home and her thoughts. She repeatedly tells him she doesn't appreciate the violation, but it never changes. He abuses his power, then she bitches, and then lets it go. It seemed very out of character for someone who is supposed to be a strong woman. Of course, many things in the book are inconsistent and unsettling - especially Kirek's insistence that Angel means yes, even when she says no. I ask you: would you sleep with this guy?

Despite the many things I hated about this (and I do mean many), it gets two hearts because the last third is pretty good. The action starts to pick up a bit and we get to see Kirek actually use his intelligence and reasoning, rather than manipulation. He almost redeems himself in the end, but sadly, it's much too late by then.

--Amanda Waters

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