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Bitter Angels by C.L. Anderson

01/04/2010. Contributed by RJ Barker

Buy Bitter Angels in the USA - or Buy Bitter Angels in the UK

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pub: Bantam Spectra. 438 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN. ISBN: 978-0-553-59217-7.

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Terese Drejaske has been brought out of retirement by Earth's peacekeeping force, 'the Saints', to look into the death of her one-time mentor and try to stop a war. Her investigation takes her to the Erasmus worlds where humans live in poverty and indentured labour is used as a form of population control. There she is embroiled in plots that seem to distract her from the main focus of her investigation. All the while, time is ticking by and a plot that will bring chaos far beyond the Erasmus system comes closer to succeeding. Will Terese be able to stop it and what price will she have to pay?

'Bitter Angels' is a confused book. At times, C.L. Anderson shows real flashes of inspiration. Some of the descriptive writing, particularly when planets are described, is lovely. Also, when she turns her hand to action it's great, kinetic and breathless in places. The world of Erasmus is interesting and fascinating, I just wish we got to it sooner and saw it in more depth.

Point of view is the first problem I had with 'Bitter Angels' and something I am surprised the editor didn't address. There are three main points of view: the heroine, Terese Drajeske, her assistant, Siri, and an Erasman security operative named Amerand Jireu.

The problem for me was that both Terese Drajeske and Amerand Jireu narrate in first person and their voices are not distinctive enough to avoid confusion. Someone must have been aware of this as each chapter is named for the character it concerns but this isn't that much help; especially if you like to read through rather than stop and check each chapter title. Because of this, the first person narrative never settles, just as you're getting used to one story you're cast back in time to relive parallel events through a different set of eyes or into a different place. There's a constant sense of, 'Who am I now?' It would have been a lot better to stick to one point of view and tell the rest of the story in third person, if it really needed to be told. Of the two main characters, I also found Amerand Jireu far more interesting. Except when he was falling in love. Which takes me to problem two.

'Bitter Angels' is sold as 'edge of the seat inter-stellar intrigue' and it isn't. It's over one hundred pages before the main character leaves Earth for Erasmus and that's because we're finding out about her family and love life. All of which could easily have been slipped in as backstory. When she reaches Erasmus, she immediately falls for Amerand Jireu and him her. It's clumsily done and feels shoe-horned in and unrealistic, especially when someone like Amerand, who is a security officer in a paranoid, fascist system has to hammer against a bulkhead with his hand, so overcome is he by a pretty face. It doesn't ring true and the romance is intrusive.

Neither do other aspects ring true. One character is sent mad and goes from thinking things are a bit odd to deciding to dismember her significant other in the blink of an eye. Plot reasons are given for this but it's still rushed and strains believability. At other times, 'Bitter Angels' feels like the second book in a trilogy, I was constantly feeling like I was missing bits of information. The 'death of Oblivion' in particular is often mentioned and its refugees are a big part of the world but it's not actually explained in any detail until the last quarter of the book. The idea of the electronic AI 'companion' is never explored fully enough to feel like more than a plot device.

In other places, 'Bitter Angels' is great. The tech feels real, the politics make sense and action is well-handled. Terese Drajeske is a bit dull but Amerand Jireu is a joy and, love interest aside, the character I wanted to read more about. There's a fascinating story in there, too, but just as I would start to get caught up it always seemed to change point of view or lose the thread.

I wouldn't recommend 'Bitter Angels' as I don't think it works due to trying to do too much and ending up confused. However, it's a book full of great ideas and it may be that C.L. Anderson will be able to step back a little and bring them together into a more complete whole in her next book. If she can, it could be something worth checking out.

RJ Barker

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