|Patti O’Shea’s debut novel, Ravyn’s Flight, received a lot of positive buzz, so it probably seemed like a good idea to include the author in Leisure’s 5-book futuristic 2176 series along with Susan Grant, Kathleen Nance and Liz Maverick. Unfortunately, O’Shea isn’t quite up to the task. While the novel’s premise is intriguing, its pace is uneven and the setting unremarkable. The alpha hero is likeable enough, but the heroine’s self-esteem issues seem out of place in a series that celebrates Girl Power .
The series’ previous installments provided glimpses of the late 22nd century in Asia, Canada and Australia, but The Power of Two returns to the United States, now known as the United Colonies of Earth. Cai Randolph and Jake Tucker are a rare pair of linked anchor and receptor from the innovative but risky Quantum Brain Tandem Project. Neural implants in their brains help them communicate with each other across great distances like two wireless-linked computers. Cai’s job is to access and share data with Jake as he takes on dangerous Special Forces assignments. Although Cai knows Jake’s identity, her partner thinks his information for the past five years has originated from a powerful computer, not a human being.
After a near-disastrous mission in which Jake loses six of his men, he is sent to the dangerous, pirate-ridden Raft Cities to locate the traitorous Bree “Banzai” Maguire, the 21st century pilot who has become a global symbol of rebellion since her miraculous revival from a frozen cryogenic state. Jake is going to have unexpected company on this trip. Cai has been searching for her missing scientist parents for six years, and she has reason to believe they are being held against their will on the Raft Cities. Now Cai has to overcome Jake’s anger when he discovers she’s a very real person as well as his reluctance to take her along on a mission. They have to locate Maguire and rescue Cai’s parents while evading bloodthirsty pirates and mercenary “wreckers” equipped with cybernetic body armor. But Cai and Jake’s special powers, plus the growing relationship between them, give the pair an unusual advantage.
O’Shea doesn’t capitalize fully on the potentially interesting story of two people irrevocably linked together. Cai and Jake communicate like telepaths but are capable of opening and blocking their links at will. That evades any ambiguous issues such as the difficulties of having constant access to another person’s thoughts and emotions (which was explored so thoughtfully in Susan Squires’ No More Secrets). The link between the pair does serve nicely as a antidote to their intrinsic loneliness, but O’Shea doesn’t examine any of the other angles of being connected so intimately for so long.
Considering the book features a Special Forces hero, the action is sadly limited. Cai and Jake travel to the Raft Cities, wander around for a while and then end up in the company of the bad guy, where they spend a lot of time debating the next step in their relationship and wondering what will happen to them. For an elite Special Forces captain and a cyber-geek expert, it takes a surprisingly long amount of time for them to start acting instead of reacting. The novel’s last 50 pages are exciting, but it’s a long wait for the payoff.
The story is also weakened by a lack of an intriguing setting. O’Shea seems unconcerned with world-building; unlike Liz Maverick’s neo-Regency Australia or Kathleen Nance’s isolationist, disease-phobic Canada, there’s little to distinguish 22nd century U.C.E. from our current reality, other than the existence of modern-day pirates.
Jake and Cai are decent enough hero and heroine. Jake is tough but wounded (of course) but (fortunately) still capable of admitting he feels something for the woman he has always relied on mentally and now needs emotionally and physically as well. Cai displays her own physical prowess several times in true kick-ass heroine style, but her insistence that she’s homely and therefore unattractive to Jake quickly becomes tiresome. Really, confidence is not a bad thing in a heroine; we don’t need any more romance novel-clichéd-women who are sure they’re ugly until they see themselves anew through the hero’s eyes.
As interesting as many of the 2176 books have been, there’s been little sense that they have been building together towards a cohesive climax. In The Power of Two, the Shadow Voice of Freedom, which has spread the word about the coming revolution inspired by Banzai Maguire, is relegated to the extreme background, although Maguire herself does make a brief appearance late in the novel. The estimable Susan Grant wraps up the series in December with The Scarlet Empress, and I suspect the action will be fast and furious as Banzai and her long-lost friend Cam help decide the fate of the planet.