Author: Ann Aguirre
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Previous Titles in Series: Grimspace (My Review)
Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for the Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now the word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and their stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job. She’s also broke, due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax takes it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince them to join the Conglomerate. But Jax’s payday is light years away. First, she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…Wanderlust introduces readers to a new Jax: feeble and less combative, but also more selfless and aware of other peoples’ feelings. This is both a welcome change – it’s nice to see her character developing – and problematic in terms of Wanderlust’s pacing. Just as Jax’s physical deterioration saps her character of the strength and tough persona she displayed in Grimspace, the narrative initially seems sluggish. Jax's new fragility means that she's sidelined from much of the action, which has the unfortunate side-effect of also disconnecting the reader from the story. Thankfully, despite a fairly simplistic plot that never really seems to go where it promises, the book picks up speed as it goes along, propelled by promising new characters and a planet-wide war.
Jax’s sickness also causes her to withdraw from March, and this leads to some conflict in their relationship, which is further exacerbated by March’s unerring hero complex. In Wanderlust, their on-and-off relationship adds drama without detracting from the plot; I just hope March and Jax’s breakups and makeups don’t become a too-recurring theme in future books, as it could become tedious. That said, they suit each other so well and their scenes together are so poignantly written that it’s impossible not to continue hoping for their Happily Ever After. I also liked that Ann Aguirre doesn’t shy away from separating these two characters on occasion, allowing the focus to shift more toward the action and character interactions than the romance.
This definitely benefits Wanderlust, as the side characters in this series continue to impress. Each of them is established as unique and likeable without their personalities ever seeming over-the-top. In particular, Vel is awesome; I loved his dry humour and awkward politeness, and his growing friendship with Jax is both amusing and thoroughly endearing. Enough new characters – including a few cameos by Jax’s mother – are introduced that this installment feels fresh and surprising, but not so many that the cast ever felt overwhelmed by unrecognizable names and faces.
Wanderlust, like its predecessor, would be an enjoyable, quick read even for those who don’t usually like science fiction. It also tones down on some of the narrative quirks that grated in Grimspace, such as the overuse of ‘frag’ as a swearword. Unfortunately, sketchy plotting and an initially slow pace weigh Wanderlust down, and, unlike the fast-paced and self-contained first book, it suffers from trying too hard to set up the next installment in the series. Nevertheless, Wanderlust is effective in that the ending left me pining for the third book, Doubleblind, and I can’t wait to see Jax attempting to play the role of gracious diplomat.