Friday, September 12, 2008

"The Wild Road" by Marjorie M. Liu

The eighth book in the Dirk & Steele series may just be one of Liu's best! Even better is that there aren't too many people that wouldn't be able to just jump in with this one. Yes, there are characters from previous D&S entries, but there's enough exposition that one wouldn't have to go back and read all the books to catch up (but trust me, you'll want to!)

A woman awakes in a hotel room when the fire alarm sounds. She realizes there are dead bodies on the floor, blood everywhere, and she has a gun. She has no memory of who the men are, how she got there - or if she killed them. Her only clue is a scrap of paper that says RUN. She manages to escape the hotel and finds herself in on a dark street, trying to break into a car, when the car's owner appears and stops here. He doesn't have her arrested, nor does he take her to a hospital, something she fears although she doesn't know why. She just knows she needs to get as far away as possible. And why can't she remember anything? It's all completely blank...

The car's owner is none other than Lannes Hannelore, one of the gargoyle brothers first introduced in the novella "A Dream of Stone and Shadow". In that story, an evil witch had imprisoned the brothers, all but Charlie, who's heart she tore out each day (it grew back, so she was able to do this for a long, long, time). Lannes is definitely what one would call a tortured soul, both literally and metaphysically. He's been spending most of his time on the island that his family owns, safe from all those who might hurt him. He's come to the mainland to visit his friend Frederick and is about to head home when he spots the woman trying to break into his car. He can sense that she needs help, but he's afraid to offer it. Once burned, twice shy and all that.

For her part, the woman is just as tortured. She has no memory of her life, but she can spout out little facts about things here and there. When Lannes reads her mind (through the ability of touch, but not in a Vulcan-mind-meld kind of way), he's able to determine that her memories are truly gone; they've been excised from her brain. As events unfold, the possibility presents itself that the woman herself might have cut out the memories. What is she running from? And what kind of life will she have if she can't remember who she was?

The Dirk & Steele series is one of my favorites, and this particular book was one of the better offerings. As these are usually a mix of romance and action, I'm always waiting to see when the leads will "hook up" - some authors have the action, so to speak, happen at the oddest moment! "Wild Road" was a bit different; I almost thought there wasn't going to be any sex this time. Sure, lots of romantic tension and possibilities, but the act itself? It was looking doubtful. I wasn't disappointed, though, because Liu did have a wonderful, very romantic scene at almost the end of the book. And surprise, surprise, it made total sense where it did, being one of the first moments the characters are finally at a safe place and have let down their guard. Very nice touch.

The plot twists are interesting, and the action is exciting. The only thing that detracts from this book is that only two other D&S characters make appearances. I've come to really like the whole team and was at least hoping to hear some of Roland's snarky banter. Oh well. I'm sure Liu will include them next time.

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