Review: A Spy to Die For by Kris DeLake, 2013.
Reading this book was a mistake.
It wasn’t because it’s a romance. That’s obvious from the cover and description. It’s not a genre I read, but I’ve liked some of the work of Kristine Kathryn Rusch, the author behind the Kris DeLake pen name. This is a follow up to Rusch’s “Skylight”, a short story explaining the origins of the novel’s heroine, Skylight Jones.
I wanted to see if more was done with the idea, from that story, of an interplanetary civilization where inadequacies in the legal system lead to a system of legalized assassination as a remedy. Can’t extradite a criminal? Can’t get a conviction? Well, just kill him.
Unfortunately, I got no more details about this story’s background, the treaties and legal theories and police policies that would actually make this work.
In fact, there are no real details about much of anything except the characters’ feelings and some of their meals.
I get this is a romance. Complaining about the amount of space devoted to dialogue and internal monologues in a romance is like complaining about way too much crime going on in mystery novels. It’s the defining content of the genre.
And I’ll even grant the lame plot coincidence of the two main characters just happening to have the same basic job, validating the actual guilt of the prospective targets of their assassin employers. They oh too conveniently mirror other characters in the Assassin Guild series — which I will not be reading any further in.
But it’s the lack of detail on everything else that greatly annoyed me.
It wasn’t just the political and social background of this series that wasn’t covered. Apart from some talk about burgers, we get little detail on what the characters eat, what the characters wear, and the places they go to. The science fiction paraphernalia is of the most generic kind: laser pistols, vaguely described computer systems and databases, augmentation to bodies (mechanical? biological? unknown), and space yachts.
The vagueness of it all reminds me of a writer not having the time to write short, so she wrote long. The dialogue and pacing may be competent, but the whole thing reminds me of a generic plot dusted off and slotted into science fiction by changing a few appropriate nouns. I was reminded of the original idea behind the initially derisive term “space opera” — a Western plot with “horse” changed to “spaceship”. Minus the whole enabling legal premise, I can almost imagine this taking place on a conventional yacht and involving pirates.
The whole thing struck me as a first draft done by a competent, fast writer. The pacing is slick, the dialogue mostly believable, but there’s no detail to tie it to one setting. Just throw in a few appropriate nouns to tenuously anchor the plot to a setting.
There isn’t even that much hot sex.
I know romance writers often have a lot of restrictions placed on them by publishers, but does this publisher really insist on this kind of bland merger of romance and science fiction? Somehow I don’t think the popular Catherine Asaro or Lois McMaster Bujold write this way.
The worse thing is that Rusch knows good science fiction. She’s written it — I particularly enjoyed her story from years ago, “The Gallery of His Dreams”. She’s edited it. She’s published it. DeLake doesn’t know good science fiction.
It’s very likely I’ll read more Rusch in the future.
It’s very certain I won’t be reading any more DeLake.