Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Minder Rising

A science fiction romance novel such as Carol Van Natta’s Minder Rising: Central Galactic Concordance Book 2 has to do two things.  It has to develop characters which can reveal the magnetism of inter-personal relationships and it has to invent a world-scale setting in which that magnetism can take place.  More than in any other romance sub-genre, in a science fiction romance the setting takes a central place, and if there is anything which is not clear about the setting, the reader’s interest can become distracted from the developing relationship.

In this novel the Central Galactic Concordance is an interplanetary system of governance, regulating over five hundred planets and providing an impersonal power which controls the lives of all the inhabitants of those worlds.  It is the third central character in the storyline, taking the role of the inimical authority, bringing into the narrative all that is threatening and destructive to affection and love.

The first flowering of attraction between the protagonists is necessarily slow because for both of the main characters other factors have become dominant.  Special security agent Lièrén Sòng is attempting to survive in a social system which, he slowly realises, has betrayed him completely, and Imara Sesay struggles to protect her gifted young son, Derrit, from the predatory clutches of the same system.  All three characters are “minders” that is, they all possess distinctive mental powers to a greater or lesser degree.  In the case of Sòng the powers are known and are used in support of the system and in the case of the mother and son they unfold as the action progresses.

        This is a recipe for success, both in the science fiction genre and equally in the romance genre, and to a very large extent Van Natta develops all the potential of her plot.  She is a stylish and accomplished author who writes with confidence and authority, and develops the action at a pace which perfectly suits the storyline, except perhaps at the outset of the book.  At the beginning of the first chapter the reader is introduced to a great deal of world references and nomenclature which are not clearly explained and which are sometimes confusing in their effect, as is the great amount of background detail which, while necessary, could perhaps have been spread more evenly across the opening pages.

A highly packed introduction courts the danger of not fixing the reader’s attention; however, by the end of the first chapter the action is unfolding smoothly, the conflict is becoming apparent and the reader’s interest and anticipation are engaged.

It is impossible to have a truly successful romance story without convincing characters.  If an author cannot create believable figures to support the storyline then they ought not to take on the challenges of this particularly demanding genre.  More than in any other genre the characters must be not only self-aware but also intensely aware of each other.  Although they are individuals, the magnet of mutual attraction draws them together and the author has to be able to depict that essential aspect of a romance story with persuasive clarity.

Van Natta’s characters are very strong and quickly take on the solid yet complex identities that are needed to support not only the romance theme but also to make the reader believe completely in the world where the storyline is played out.  Sòng’s growing realisation of his isolation within the system, a realisation which turns him from cooperation to opposition, is particularly well handled.  Imara’s more pragmatic determination not to allow the system to overcome her life identifies her as the perfect partner to accompany Sòng into the future.  Even the secondary characters are well-shaped, particularly the flamboyant and exhibitionist Rayle who carries his own line of interest through the full course of the action.

In Minder Rising Carol Van Natta has brought together two genres, giving each a similar weighting in the development of the plot.  The book is not science fiction with a romantic interest nor is it a romance incidentally placed in a different world.  It is a highly satisfactory and successful integration of the two, resulting in an enjoyable story very well told against a setting which is completely believable.
Reviewed by Judith Rook
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