Reviewed by Ian Lipke
It’s comforting to know that a reader can still find an honest, well-written, enjoyable thriller of the likes that Scott Westerfield writes. His new book is just that. It’s intended for Young Adult reading and fits that niche market quite neatly.
It is the story of two sisters. Rafia is brought up to be a high class society lady, who appears at the side of her megalomaniac father, on all occasions where a beautiful woman is needed. She has the grace and the raw beauty that persuades any opposition to fade away, except for the malcontents who oppose her father and run the real risk of a bullet.
That there was a twin sister was never revealed to the public. While Rafia was trained to be the perfect socialite, Freya was trained to be the ultimate weapon. She it was who doubled for Rafia whenever there was likely to be danger. At all other times she remained out of sight and confined in a part of their father’s headquarters, where there was no public access.
When a deal is negotiated between the twins’ father and his opposition, the Palafox family, the latter require Rafia as collateral. Neither trusts the other. Freya is sent in Rafia’s place. Her father intends to attack the Palafox family when their guard is down, knowing that the first to receive a bullet will be his own daughter. But it does not take long for Col Palafox to realise that the girl is not who she claims to be. Freya is astounded when Col reveals that the Palafox family are seeking an alliance in blood viz through the marriage of Col with the other family’s daughter. When her father attacks, Freya is caught up in a plot to have her killed and is forced to tell Col the truth while rescuing them both from the opposing soldiers. The story proceeds from there.
I particularly like to see evidence of the effort that has gone into the creation and specific details of the scenes through which the characters move at lesser or greater speed. The action scenes are particularly exciting, but it is the narration of the growing feeling between Freya and Col that is most engaging. I would think that several drafts must have been written before the romance was configured and the book came into being.
If I have one criticism it is that the name ‘Col’ just has no resonance when set beside Freya, Rafia, Aribella, and Yandre. The name is Anglo-Saxon and is an irritant when the reader tries to absorb the information about a society that is far away and glamorous. No name of Latinate origin was selected, just dull as mud ‘Col’.
No review could dismiss the ingenious ideas that have been used to create the costumes the characters wear and some of the gimmicks. The creation of sneak-suits that mould to fit the body, the knife that does so much destruction, the air ships with their idiosyncrasies sound like a civilization more advanced technologically than our own, but no different in terms of their bloodthirstiness and lack of moral fibre.
The book is intended to put action books back on the writers’ horizons. It is the era of the Jason Bourne novels, Patriot Games and the Hunger Games that Westerfield hopes to resurrect. I couldn’t disagree with the man. I can thoroughly recommend this book, among the best of escapist literature.
By Scott Westerfield
Allen & Unwin