Sunday 12 March 2017

#CBR9 Book 22: "The Turn: The Hollows Begins with Death" by Kim Harrison

Page count: 448 pages
Audio book length: 16 hrs 20 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! I found it impossible to review this book without revealing plot details that would probably be considered spoilery, so if you like to start a book without knowing much, probably skip this review. Also, this book is a PREQUEL, best read after you finish the full thirteen book series by Kim Harrison.

In a world where humans are the dominant species, they are fully unaware that there are a number of supernatural races living among them, trying to stay firmly under the radar, doing their very best to always blend in. Witches, vampires, elves and werewolves may look and act human, but have their own genetic makeup and customs and are always worried that the humans will discover and turn on them. In addition to the species who can pass for human, there are a number of smaller groups, like fairies, pixies, gargoyles and trolls, who have to stay completely out of sight and whose numbers are rapidly dwindling because of increased urbanisation and increased pollution. Calling themselves Inderlanders, the supernatural species often have scientific and technological advances far beyond those of the humans, but can't publicly reveal them for fear of being outed.

Elves are among the most vulnerable of the Inderlanders, with their numbers small, as they have incredible difficulties conceiving children, who often need a lot of very expensive genetic tinkering to live to adulthood and have children of their own. Among the elves, most of them are tall, blond and pale-eyed, with the dark elves, with their dark hair and eyes considered somewhat inferior. Felicia Eloytrisk "Trisk" Cambry is one such dark elf, and she's worked hard to become the best of her class at bio-engineering, despite the fact that most dark elves are encouraged to stay in the background, in security type jobs. Her fiercest rival is Trenton "Kal" Kalamack, a spoiled, arrogant and entitled man whose family was once rich and very influential, but are now left with Kal as their only scion, having spent most of their fortune to even have him. He's determined to make his once great name powerful again, and doesn't really care who he screws over to do it.

It's not like the 1960s was a hugely progressive and supportive time for women to begin with, and as a woman, dark elf and daughter of a minor house, Trisk has her work cut out for her. At their graduation work fair, she and Kal get into a big argument and cause a massive scene, ruining any chance either of them has of the best jobs. Kal has tormented Trisk for most of their lives, being a shallow and thoughtless bully and once Trisk's best friend, Quen, accepted a job as security for the Kalamack family, she didn't really have the restraint to hold back her contempt for the man. After the job fair, Trisk is approached by one of the elven leaders and asked if she would consider taking a job with a human lab, to act as a spy for the Inderlanders, making sure that the humans don't make genetic advances that could be harmful to the supernatural races. She's initially reluctant, but needs to make money somehow, so has no choice but to accept.

Three years later, Trisk has thrived in her job, engineering a new strain of drought-resistant tomato which should help eliminate hunger in the third world. In addition, she's been working to make sure that her human colleague Daniel's new tactical virus won't in any way affect any of the Inderland species when it's finally let out of a lab. The virus is meant to give people fever, sickness and a rash for 24 to 48 hours, before they get better again and recover. It's meant to help armed forces neutralise hostile populations for long enough that soldiers can move in and take over an area. Trisk has made very sure that no matter how it actually works in practise, it won't touch Inderlanders. The ruling council of Inderlanders are still not entirely convinced Trisk has managed to make the virus entirely safe (she is a mere woman, after all), so they send as a consultant to double check her work. He's still angry because he lost a chance to work at NASA after the graduation fair, and plans to either outright steal or sabotage Trisk's work, making sure her reputation is utterly ruined. If he can seduce her and break her heart while he's at it, that will just be a bonus.

Long story short, because of pettiness and jealousy, once Kal discovers how good a geneticist Trisk actually is and that her work is flawless, he instead sets about sabotaging her, by forging a link between the tactical virus and her T4 Angel tomato. Unfortunately, something in the drought-resistant tomato makes the virus very potent and within 24 hours, humans are dying everywhere. Living vampires, who possess the vampire virus, but are not yet dead, are getting sick, but not dying. Once Trisk and Daniel realise what has happened, but not yet how, they go on the run, fully aware that they are going to be blamed for the disaster. Trisk needs to make it to the elven council, and they need a way to notify everyone not to eat tomatoes or anything tomato based, as it seems the virus spreads more rapidly than they could have imagined and is completely fatal to humans who catch it. Trisk is pretty convinced she knows exactly who is behind the plague, but also knows that unless she can find proof, it will be her word against Kal's.

This prequel to Kim Harrison's thirteen book paranormal fantasy series goes back and shows the reader how the deadly virus that took out a quarter of the world's humans started (and it turns out it was all because of Trent's dad). This book is really best read after finishing the rest of the books in The Hollows, because it assumes you already know how Harrison's paranormal universe works. In the early books of her series, she explains how all her various supernatural species interact and how, after The Turn (as the plague event came to be known), humans were no longer the dominant species and the Inderlanders could come forward without fear of being hunted and eradicated. In fact, since they were immune to the virus, they were the ones that were able to keep some semblance of order and lend aid to the dying humans. Significantly, in Harrison's alternate paranormal universe, no one ever made it to the Moon and genetic engineering was made illegal after the Turn.

As a long-time reader, it was fun to see a young and dashing Quen, as well as catch a brief glimpse of heroine Rachel's dad. There are several appearances by one of my favourite characters in the series, the wily and charming demon Algaliarept, but the main focus here are Trent's parents. I don't know if Harrison is planning more prequels, but based on what she shows in this book, that man cannot have had a good childhood as his mother and father were bitter enemies and well, his dad twisted his mother's work to cause a world-spanning plague. Oh, and his family's chief of security clearly fancied his mum. That's not going to make for a tranquil and harmonious home life. No wonder the man is morally dubious in the early books of the main series.

Trisk is a really cool character, who works so hard to prove herself. I want to tell you that she gets a happy ending, but unless there are more prequels to come, I really don't think anyone can say that where she ends up at the end of this book is a place where she'll thrive. This was a fun book to read, but it nearly got an even lower rating, because I hated Kal so very much. Even having read the book, i can't believe Trisk let her be fooled by him for even a second and certainly not to let her guard down for long enough to get knocked up. While there are hints in the original series that Trent's dad wasn't exactly nice, there is nothing to suggest he was this noxious and inexcusable a character. I want more prequels, where he suffers a LOT and Trisk gets all the good things she deserves.

Since Kim Harrison finished The Hollows, I've been pondering a full re-read, to see how the characters and story develops over the thirteen books. This book was an excellent way to get me into the head space I need, and I suspect I'll now have even more affection for Trent (a character I always loved, even when he was a worthy nemesis of Rachel), because compared to his dad, he's a saint.

Judging a book by its cover: Kim Harrison has said on her blog that this might be her favourite cover of all of her books, and it really is atmospheric and lovely. While the cover model (what you see of her cropped face) looks nothing like I imagine Trisk (I'm pretty sure her hair is described as darker, as well), the sparse colour scheme of red white and black is eye-catching, with the billowing red dress (not really period appropriate for the 1960s) evoking thoughts of blood, the woman cradling the tomato tenderly, even as it's turned deathly black and putrid contamination is swirling from it, staining both the letters and the dress. In a different setting, the snow and trees in the background might bring thoughts to peace and serenity, but here also bring to mind loneliness and underscores how alone Trisk really is.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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