I'll be completely upfront- I tend to like Kay Hooper's books and I tend to find them worth my time and money. However, I'm not blind to the faults that could bug some other readers. This book, quite simply, was a whole lot of set-up and very little pay-off. I trust Kay Hooper, based on years of reading her books. I trust that she'll take this series somewhere worthy. But, a new reader may be skeptical. This first book has enough issues that a reader may need some patience to carry over to the second book.
If you are a Kay Hooper fan then, read away. I liked it enough to give the series a shot and I imagine you will feel the same. I'll say that there are some differences here between this and her last works. We are working with a more international-scope, larger conspiracy-style mystery than KH normally uses as a plot-line. In her former books, KH tends to focus on a serial killer, his stalking phase, and his capture by the good guys. This book is different. If I had to venture a comparison, I'd say Iris Johanson's Pandora books felt most like this series set-up. There is an over-arching story arc, here, that is not as well set-up as I'd like (but, I'll get to that, later.) We get a glimpse of a few familiar characters but they are really only glimpses. I can't attest to the coming series but this is NOT a Bishop book (where his hand is the one in control). I was actually wondering, for awhile, if this was taking place in a different book universe. It is in the Bishop and Haven universe but we are on the outer fringes where the rules we have learned in the past series' aren't necessarily relevant- because these new characters are NOT part of Bishop's or Haven's universe- they are KH's version of Muggles.
It was interesting. If I had to sum it up this is a book about a brewing war between good and evil (familiar KH theme). I had a lot of problems with the books' set-up. I thought KH was unnecessarily stingy with the better details. I think the plot line with Tucker and Sarah (the book's nominal hero and heroine) was overshadowed by the who, what, where, when and why of the over-arching mystery. So, I was more interested in the details of the brewing war- except, I still don't really know who is fighting, why they are fighting, what is the motive, how can this fit into the Bishop and Haven universe, and how is Hollis different from Sarah. I have more questions that it doesn't help to continue articulating. Suffice it to say, I had too many questions to feel totally in love with this book and series. I thought KH was being unnecessarily mysterious about the good stuff that would keep me reading the book's series.
Duran. This is one of those book tropes that can bug me. I don't like unnecessarily mysterious, all-powerful characters who have exceedingly ambiguous motivations. And, when you make the head villain in the series lead-off so morally ambiguous... it tends to lessen the impact of the danger and tension and I'm already less interested in the over-all villain. We have all read series where some powerful member of the enemy sees the light and joins the resistance. I am NOT saying Duran will eventually be a good guy- I have no clue. But, when the author sets up the potential bones of a common trope in a series where we are all experiencing seriously delayed gratification.... Like I said, it can really bug me and when I get too bugged, I walk away. The lack of information about the conspiracy coupled with a bad guy who may or may not be all committed to the end-goal- tends to irritate me.
Tucker and Sarah. Hmmm. Sarah was a disappointment for me. Part of my disappointment with her character is directly related to the lack of information about the over-arching mystery. I felt way too much time was spent on her internal angst and not enough on the juicy conspiracy stuff. Granted, I'm not the most patient reader. But, when I hope a character will just shut up or put up- then I'm just not that into her story and especially any romance sub-plot where she is involved. Way too much of the book was Sarah complaining, or being tormented, or feeling resigned, or despairing, or whatever negative emotion she was feeling. And then, a too abrupt turn-around for a somewhat happy-ish ending (it is a series- it left off in a mostly okay place for Sarah). Imagine Debbie Downer turning into Boadicea (total gross exaggeration on both ends!) Now, Tucker- I mostly liked him. I wanted him to tell Sarah a few home truths to get her to snap out of her depressed fugue state. Or, perhaps point out that her myopic vision was preventing her from seeing this was not all about her. So, I have those ambivalent feelings I have towards a character who falls in love with a character I do not like and do not think deserves it.
The rules. My issue here is the rules of KH's Bishop universe. I'll admit, I'm not 100% conversant with every Bishop book I've ever read but I have some strong doubts that this book is not following the rules of the psychic universe as we know it. Or, perhaps, I'm just annoyed that we know the rules but these characters do not. It's like watching a horror movie where the characters say "let's split up" and you, the viewer, are yelling "Don't split up!" Call me OCD, but when an author takes a lot of trouble to write rules I kind of expect them to follow them. And, I think Sarah has broken a ton of Bishop rules.
The resolution of this book's stand-alone mystery. Hmmm. Again, Hmmm. For all the angst and trauma and drama, it was a pretty pat resolution. Really, really pat. And not at all explanatory or explicable. Why did the bad guys behave that way? What was the whole point of the whole book? That was a lot of money and time spent... So was it purposeful or some giant misdirection that had another purpose? Who actually was the target? I'm not entirely sure what was up with the last twist. I get it- its a series. However, to leave a book scratching your head and wondering whether the last couple of hundred pages were just a prologue to the next story which isn't even starting until the next book.....Like I said, unnecessarily mysterious.
There were several more examples of too much set-up and not enough explanation to make the story feel more vital and immediate. The possibility of traitors. Haven. SCU. All the interconnections that were intimated. All those random characters- are we even in a single timeline or are we jumping around? A lot of info was just thrown at you that is or will be necessary to the series set-up.
I'll totally admit, my problems with this book are personal preferences. And without regard to any issues, I read the whole thing as quick as I could. I like Kay Hooper. I like her characters, I like her writing style, I like her slightly grim view of the world. The romance was a much lesser portion of the book- this book was all about the series set-up.
So, if you are a Kay Hooper fan, read it and you'll probably like it because you believe the pay-off will come. If you do not read Kay Hooper, she writes a good series. She usually comes through. So, this book is a whole lot of set-up and the momentary resolution wasn't all that satisfying. But, if you are looking for a new series to torment yourself with- try this one!