The thing that stands out about Sara Stamey’s prose, for me, is how taut it is, while managing to convey an image-rich atmosphere while keeping the pace headlong. All her books are like that—running action and image in tight-wired tandem, in contrast to many of the so-called “lush” or “lyrical” styles, which often use three similar words or phrases to get across a single image. Wordiness that can slow the pace to a sedate stroll, which might not be conducive to reader investment in action scenes, for example.
Second thing I noticed in reading this particular series is the leap in imagination and complexity between the first book and this, the second.
You don’t have to have read the first book to enjoy this one.
We do have Wild Card Run here, of course—if Kurtis’s brief memory flashes in this self-contained book intrigue you, the story is there. It stands up well—vivid and tightly paced—with some recognizable eighties tropes. (I reviewed it here.)
But I think Stamey made an exponential leap in sheer craft between that book and this one. About the only eighties trope I noticed in this second volume was the label for the robot guards being “mechmen,” which might stand out in these gender-conscious days.
This second book could easily have fallen into another of the eighties traps: the “modern person savior of the native race” syndrome, as Kurtis labors on behalf of the forest-world of Andura against the local so-called Resistance, whose motives are entirely selfish, and the more distant governmental plan that is increasingly appearing . . . problematic.
But Stamey turns that once-popular trope inside out. To begin with, the Andurans don’t want Kurtis. They don’t trust her. They wish to be left to themselves, thank you. Kurtis has to work hard to make any connection. Watching Kurtis race against the clock, the bad guys, and her own human nature as she strives to adapt to the Anduran paradigm made this book such an absorbing read for me.
Bringing me to my third point—how many chewy, sfnal ideas get airtime while the pacing never flags. These, the complexity of the main characters, and the non-stop action, made this book as fresh and fun a read now as anything penned and published this year.