I loved ‘Stray’, the first part of the Touchstone trilogy, so I moved straight onto part two. And wouldn’t you just know it, the one time I don’t need a ‘Previously on…’ type recap because it’s all fresh in my mind, there one is at the front of the book. And again there’s a glossary and list of characters at the back. If only all authors were so considerate. The previous book had no cliffhanger ending, but there wasn’t much resolution, either – just an acceptance by main character Cass that, having stepped accidentally through some kind of wormhole-type ‘gate’ from Earth and finding herself on a different planet altogether, there’s not going to be a happy ever after any time soon, and doing her bit to help out the locals with their problems in the meantime is not such a bad thing. So at first, the story continues in much the same way, with Cass being carted about on missions, tested and trained, and treated very much like the lab rat she designated herself early on. So for anyone who disliked that aspect of the first book, this is more of the same.
Fortunately, we haven’t yet seen the full extent of Cass’s unique set of abilities, so even a routine test can suddenly turn into a frantic scramble for survival or an ooh-aah moment. The opening up of the abandoned planet of Muina through Cass’s talents is fascinating. We also see more in this book of the other societies descended from the abandoned planet of Muina (where Cass first arrived), so there is a certain amount of inter-planetary posturing going on, which is quite fun. And Cass becomes a media star! But much of the action centres around the Setari (psychic ninja space soldiers, basically), who are defending Tare, their home planet, from the creepy and highly variable Ionoth which leak through from – well, wherever they come from (I’m hazy about the ‘spaces’ and ‘pillars’ and whatever it was that happened). In book one, the Setari mostly treated Cass as a piece of military equipment, useful but not particularly interesting, and she had to fight to get them to see her as anything other than an object. This time round, they are much more aware of her as a person, and she is beginning to build relationships with some of them, and assert herself as a person.
Partly this is because she can speak the language better, so she is able to express herself with more subtlety, and display her wonderful sense of humour. I very much like the way the author has handled the language differences, so that Cass gradually becomes more fluent over the course of the books, although lapsing sometimes when under stress. I have no idea whether the early efforts are an accurate simulation of how a native English speaker would adapt to a new language, but it seemed pretty convincing to me. I found it totally believable that the Tarens would not appreciate how intelligent she is, when her only communications are halting baby sentences with bad grammar.
I like Cass very much. She’s exactly the sort of person I would love to have for a friend – smart, self-deprecating, sensible and very, very funny (in a totally non-vicious way). Her observations of Taren life and the people around her are wonderful. And I have to confess to having the hots for Ruuel (the love interest), which is so not me. My taste in men was formed by Woody Allen (cute and funny) or Robert Redford (roguish in a dishevelled but handsome way), and perfectly honed, impossibly fit and laconic-bordering-on-terse types don’t do much for me. But Ruuel? Mmmm, yes. There’s a certain amount of angsting going on Cass’s head about him, but it’s very funny. She rates men on the Orlando Bloom-meter, and when one of the Setari registers a 7, she points out that Orlando Bloom himself registers a 7 on the Ruuel-meter. Did I mention how much I love Cass’s sense of humour? And for anyone concerned about the romance level, it’s certainly higher than in the first book, but there’s still a lot more plot than angst.
This book is pure undiluted pleasure. I was slightly drunk on the enjoyment of it, and hey – no calories, no falling over and no hangover afterwards. Just a great big smile. Why isn’t every book like this? Twelve stars. At least. And now straight on to the third book…