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Urban Fantasy/ Cyberpunk Review: ‘Keeping It Real’ (Quantum Gravity 01) by Justina Robson

Synopsis:

Welcome to a new world, in the aftermath of the Quantum Bomb. After ‘the explosion at the Superconducting Supercollider in Texas, at some point in the Lost Year, 2015, scientists discovered a hole in the fabric of spacetime over the blast site.’ The blast brought at least five other realities into contact with Earth (now called Otopia): ‘Zoomenon, the realm of the Elements’; ‘Alfheim,’ the elves’ world; ‘Demonia,’ self-explanatory (‘The demons are, like the elves, life-forms which appear adept in magic’); ‘Faery,’ very ancient, & with a ‘long association with certain regions of the Earth over the more interesting parts of human history’; & ‘Thanatopia’ an ‘unlikely place … bound tightly to the I-space continuum’ (to ‘cross into Thanatopia requires death and return is not possible to those not greatly skilled in necromancy’).


Lila Amanda Black is hired as a bodyguard of a rock star, Zal Ahriman, the lead singer of The No Shows. Lila is not your average muscle woman – she is a bionic hybrid, something like a cross between Robocop, a bakugan and a human being. In a diplomatic mission gone wrong in Alfheim she was tortured to near death, turning her into a cyborg was her only chance of survival. Now what was left of her body is meshed with carbon, metal alloy machinery and an AI system, supporting her brain. Zal is also not your average rock star – he is an Elf which has been adopted (?) by a family of Demons and decided to make a career in Otopia, a very original and rather unheard-of move. Now somebody seems to be very keen on murdering him for reason or reasons unknown. Will Lila manage to save him and her own sanity, which is rather quite a challenge taking her past into account? What will she discover about herself? Despite her best efforts, some Elf agents manage to kidnap Zal back into Alfheim, where an Elf Queen seeks to create a spell that will once again seal her world off from all the others, in order to preserve its purity. Lila will face plenty of challenges in order to prevent the worst. Some of them will surprise even her AI self.

What I liked:

The world building was great- well tought-out and intricate, exactly as I like. I adored the concept of mixing high tech (cyberpunk) with Faery, other lands and their magic – it was perhaps not exactly new but was executed in a fresh, intelligent way. Also the descriptions of Elves and Demons sometimes made me want to grab a pencil or felt-tips and draw.

The main heroine was your ordinary girl closed in an artificial body but with old problems (do I look hot?) and old questions (does anybody consider me hot?). Still I liked her unique way of dealing with them – when she gets into Combat Standard it seems nothing matters anymore. She matches well Zal who is a bit of a mystery at first, an elf who has chosen to defy his people and “go native” in another world, exiled and persecuted because of his career. His character is rather complex and undefinable because he has decided to change into a hybrid of a kind – half Elf, half Demon, with some very human sense of humour and a penchant for human pop music.

What I didn’t like:

I admit it felt like a romance novel in disguise from time to time. For a cyborg freak-girl, Lila had surprisingly a lot of sex experiences…well, she was certainly something different but still you would think a machine doesn’t have those urges anymore. Her adventures in Alfheim featured some ‘jump the shark’ moments which are not among my favourite features in any book because they belong to those more silly computer games. Also the novel is guilty of minor infodumps – I suppose it would work for me better if the author spent more time showing how the new technologies worked in practice. However this is just a beginning so I hope the series will get better.Yeah, sometimes I am deluded like that! ;p

Final verdict:

Not bad for a first book. I think I am going to continue the series as I am really curious about the other worlds, not featured in the first installment. Demonia? Hmmm…Anyway if you like to read an action-filled book with a strange heroine in a strange world this series might be right down your alley. Three and half stars.

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