Friday, April 5, 2013

The Dork Review: Cascade Effect

It's always interesting to see traditional gender roles upset or reversed in fiction. After reading Cascade Effect I do believe we can safely say that this is Leah Petersen's wheelhouse.

Cascade Effect is the sequel to Fighting Gravity, and follows newlywed and newly-princed Jake Dawes as he navigates married life as the second-most important person in a star-spanning empire, the most important person being his husband, the Emperor.

Yes, it's one of "those books", as some people might say, a novel that dares to have gay characters without making a huge fuss about it. This is a common thread carried over from Fighting Gravity, and one that more authors should pick up.

The best way I can think to describe this book is it's a domestic sci-fi romance. There's scheming and plots galore going on in the background, along with a few digs at religious fundamentalism and some notions of class-warfare, but the core of the story is between Jake and his husband Pete, the monarchical Emperor. The story ebbs and flows around these too men and the conflicts in their relationship caused by things unsaid and the pressures of outside forces.

I do love the consistency of the characters in Cascade Effect. These are the same people we met in Fighting Gravity. Jake is still Jake; angry, headstrong, and stubborn to a fault. Half of his problems could be solved if he just learned how to bend and compromise, but if he did that then he wouldn't be Jake. He remains a man outside of everything and unsure who he can trust even as he loves deeply.

Aside from the consistency of the characters, Cascade Effect lets us see a bit more of the world Leah Petersen has constructed. I liked that this book involved itself more in the class struggle between the Empire's lowest and highest, putting Jake at the very centre of that struggle since he belongs to both groups simultaneously. It can be extremely hard to talk about class struggle and the poor without sounding too preachy, and I believe Leah manages to achieve this balance. Through the use of multiple different unclass characters she's makes them real to the reader in the same way they are real to Jake. They aren't saints but neither are they devils. They're just people.

My one criticism of the book would be that it doesn't spend enough time on the class struggle and the various plots going on around Jake while spending too much time focused on the relationships around him. At times it seems that Jake is filling the role of "woman who endures" from romantic fiction, and thereby has less agency than should be expected from a protagonist, no matter their gender.

Still, lack of agency aside, Cascade Effect is a compelling read and the credit for that lies at Leah Petersen's feet. Nothing ever feels forced or lagging, and the book moves at a brisk pace. I'm a fast reader, but even I was surprised at how quickly I made it through. The only other author in recent memory I can think to compare her to is Mary Robinette Kowal. Both have the ability to make subjects I would normally find dreadfully dull and excruciating to read entertaining instead.

If you enjoyed Fighting Gravity pick up Cascasde Effect. If you haven't read Fighting Gravity then pick up both so you're well stocked for beach-reading while on vacation. Either way, enjoy.

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