Tour’s Books Blog

June 26, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Relentless by Lauren Dane (erotic romance)

Relentless by Lauren Dane is her second futuristic novel in the Known Universe series and sequel to Undercover. I’d love to say she knocked it out of the park, but once again, the world building, did her in and it’s making me snarky.  Just as I felt like I was more ‘in’ this book, not just watching people on a barely dressed stage as I was with Undercover, Dane would make a continuity or logic slip that would yank me back to the here and now. Here we are in the brave new “Known Universe” and Abbie uses current day slang when she accuses Roman of “blowing me off…”. Then big first sex scene involved Abbie’s suit jacket, skirt, blouse buttons and front hook bra. HUH? Wait a minute, you have space flight and you’re a THOUSAND YEARS IN THE FUTURE AND YOU HAVE BUTTONS AND FRONT HOOK BRAS AND SKIRTS WITH SUIT JACKETS? I found it extremely disconcerting when the book slipped into these scenes that belonged in contemporary books not a furturistic stories. I kept getting jarred right out of the alternate future world setting and wondering if Ms Dane spliced a contemporary novel with a Regency novel and just threw in some spaceships and multiple worlds. It was very frustrating.

The story of Relentless picks up as the shock of the traitorous activities by some members of the Ranked Families is reverberating throughout the ‘Verse. (Undercover) Ranked Family members are about to go on trial in the capital city and center of the Known Universe, Ravena, for their part in the events on Nondal. There is also a scandal about an Associate Ranked family, the Kerrigans, who accused an 80 year old woman who raised their children and grandchildren of theft just after she put in her retirement papers. As an unranked worker, the woman has way to bring charges for illegal dismissal. Abbie Haws, the spokeswoman and leader for the Movement for Representative Democracy is using this tiny leverage and the increasing widespread discontent to get the Governance Council to begin the move to a representative democracy. Abbie is also a barrister and a damn good one. An articulate and thoughtful ‘face’ to the unrest among the unranked, she’s a ‘troublemaker’ to the Ranked and a leader to the unranked. She lives her life filled with the two jobs with a little set aside for her family and the occasional romp with her ex-fiancé who has slowly slipped into the role of friend.

Roman Lyon is the Head of House Lyon, the ruling house of the Governance Council that controls the Known Universe. A hereditary job that goes to the first born son. His father’s health meant he had to take over the House of Lyon at an early age, so he was married at 17 and he and his equally young wife had 2 sons almost immediately. She developed a ‘blood infection’ for the second birth and eventually died, leaving him a very young father with 2 boys to raise. (Later in the story Roman tells this tale and Abbie’s shares her near death experience. Abbie says ‘nanites’ saved her life. Once again I found myself wondering why, after a 1,000 years, women’s lives were still risked in child birth at a young age and why ‘nanites’ helped Abbie, but not Roman’s late wife? It’s stuff like this that drives me nuts.)

We now have the same classic setup that you have in Regency romance, the ‘duke and shop girl’ type thing. He must not get caught cavorting with an unranked woman, and all she can ever be to him is a mistress. House Lyons rules require he, as first born, marry a Ranked woman only. Even if he made Abbie his legal mistress, only he could recognized their children, an act totally at his discretion, and they would not have the same status as his raked children. Does this not feel Regency to you?   Besides, Abbie knows she’s worth more than mistress status, she deserves to be a wife.

I digress.  Abbie is asked to come to Roman’s office for an appointment he requested, the equivalent of a White House visit, or a stop to see the Queen, and he leaves her waiting. After 2 hours she leaves, peeved at having her time wasted like that. She’s a very busy barrister specializing in criminal cases. (It felt like a well financed Public Defenders office thing.) Marcus, his secretary and as close to a lifelong friend Roman has, informs him he needs to make amends. So the most powerful man in the Known Universe goes to Abbie’s apartment – alone. (Yup, I believe that, don’t you?) Abbie gives him a hard time, but still feeds him her sister’s stew. She makes it clear leaving her waiting does not peeve her as much as his attitude that her time was less valuable than his own. He finally sees her perspective and they meet again in his office.

Five minutes flat into her second visit to his office Roman has his hand up her skirt and his fingers inside her till she comes. OK – take a deep breath. His office, where this man runs the Known Universe, all the Ranking families, many worlds, whole armies, and deals with foreign governments (Wait, isn’t he the de-facto ruler of the Known Universe? The whole thing? How can there be ‘foreign governments’? Never mind. I must be confused about what constitutes the ‘Known Universe’. Those other people must be in the ‘Unknown Universe’. But how can we know of them if it’s Unknown? Well, crap.) ummmmm ……… what about the security cameras? Oh hell, what about staff? Where are all his advisors that have all manner of subspecialties? This is a paternalistic/socialistic society, there must be a massive bureaucracy and flunkies that handle things, but all these guys act like they’re running a mid-size family firm. One, ONE secretary? Just think about how many people stand between an average citizen and the president of the US, even when invited. A lot more than a few guards and ONE secretary. During a time of unrest and discontent with the Ranking families and the way they rule and we start the discussion on representative democracy with a little nookie?

Alright, I’m nitpicking here, but come on. This is half Harlequin’s Tycoon of the Week’s Diner Waitress Revel, and half Grand Duke of Everything and the Unsuitable Female Commoner Barrister. Argh! I can suspend just so much credulity and that’s it. I love Lauren Dane, but honestly, she needs to do something about her world building – though in all fairness, it would seem from reader reviews I’m the only one sincerely bothered by all this compounding improbability.

Relentless tells a half way decent love story and the supporting cast helps make it far more ‘alive’ than Undercover, but the hero and heroine are rather trite. I liked both Roman and Abbie, but I just didn’t believe their story. Abbie is the only person the head of the Known Universe can think of to defend his secretary’s son on a murder charge? She has time to handle multiple criminal cases, establish and run the Movement for Representative Democracy, defend herself against an Associate House’s attempt to get her license to practice law revoked, and get an old woman off on a trumped up theft charge? All while having an affair with the leader of the Known Universe? Oh, and lest we forget, she’s also working with the Advisory Council comprised of the eldest sons of the Ranked houses to get a proposal for ‘power sharing’ heard by the Governance Council. Mind you, it was a VERY modest reform she was seeking, not the establishment of a parliament. And dealing with an internal power struggle in the MRD lead by her a-hole father who wants reform to be about him, as well as the emotionally draining pressure that Saul Kerrigan, head of an Associate House, the man responsible for having an 80 year old woman arrested and jailed on theft charges to avoid paying her retirement, and also the uncle of the man who, with his Ranked friends, raped her and damn near killed her using a meat hook years before. Well, at least she wasn’t also being the surrogate mother for her sister’s child!

OK – now for my last bit of annoyance on the subject of the organization of the power structure in the Known Universe. In Relentless, we learn the Known Universe was settled by people from Earth who came through the portal in a great diaspora that occurred a thousand years earlier. The Ranking Families are those that came to Known Universe with wealth. Given these settlers came from societies that had various forms of representative governments, how the hell did this pseudo-economic-aristocracy end up as absolute rulers for so long? The East India Company, which seems to be the role model here, lasted less than a third that long and that before information technology existed as it does in this setting – hell, as it does today! And way before space travel. How do you manage to forget something as fundamental as representative democracy? Benevolent dictatorships rarely last more than a generation or two, and usually at least the illusion of some form of elective government is in place to keep people happy. A thousand years before someone finally makes headway? Even though trial by jury seems absent, the model of British Common Law seems to have at least partially made it through the portal. (By the way, I still haven’t a clue how portals work, nor why the people with the real power – the army, which is filled with the unranked – hasn’t turned the whole thing into a military dictatorship.) How could suffrage have gone by the wayside? Does anyone realize that we are LESS than 1000 years away from the Magna Carta?  It’s like the political science majors, historians and philosophers all went to sleep for a millenium and Sleeping Beauty woke them up!

Overall, aside from the aggravating discontinuities and seemingly impossible combinations of modern and Regency cultural and socio-economic models mixed with socialistic benevolent dictatorships, you are left with a story of two people who simply cannot be together. Not only do they represent political, social and cultural opposites, they both have responsibilities to organizations that are more important them either of them as individuals. (Cue Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca.) So they end their relationship – but not before the press learns of it. (Man, these guys are S-L-O-W.  The nailed the govenor of SC in 3 days!)

We do get to see Ash Walker and Brandt Pela again. The chat with Roman and Brandt about marrying an unranked woman should have happened much earlier in the book. I think having them and Sera woven in here would have given the story more of everything – including Abbie a great confidant.

The secondary characters are more fleshed out and there is a shadowy secondary love story between Marcus and Abbie’s sister Nyna and her brother Daniel gets good play (I see a book in his future) – he’s another operative for Wilhelm Ellis from Undercover. I noticed a number of reviewers stated the ‘sex was hot’. Again, it would seem I veer to neutral. Some was, some felt artificial for the sake of having sex at that page number in the book. It felt like quantity over quality.

There is the requisite HEA, but damned if I know where the MRD goes once their leader is now ‘sleeping with the enemy.’

I hate when I am of two minds with a book. This is the second time in less than 10 days. Lauren Dane is a really good writer, but Relentless didn’t grab me. Roman and Abbie were not as strong as the protagonists in Undercover, but it did flesh out, to some extent, the society in which all of this is taking place. We learn a bit about the layout of Ravena, the capital city, and the logic behind it – steam vents powering heating and hot water. But each time I managed to get lost in the story another of those improbable circumstances would slap my brain and snap me into ‘sarcastic bitch’ mode because I got annoyed at having the mood broken – again.

My Grade: C+ (3.25*) Even ignoring all the other issues, it all came down to an average love story.

Who would enjoy this story: People who like Regency and Harlequin Tycoon romances. Those who like Dane’s Undercover. The rating for this book in NC-17 to x.

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