True Blood by Patricia Waddell
(Tor, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-765-3564-0
A futuristic/paranormal+mystery+romance has three chances to get it right (or wrong). Despite a strong showing in one category, ultimately True Blood goes down on a 2:1 count.

Danna MacFadyen is a diplomat with the League of Planets (that would be the home team) assigned to investigate the explosion of a Korcian Empire freighter in League air space. Also on the three member investigatory tribunal is Commander Cullen Gavriel, representing the Empire (that would be the visiting team). This is Danna’s first serious assignment and not surprisingly she wants to make a good showing. In addition to her general diplomatic skills, she has a talent that could prove valuable to the team –psychometric skills that allow her to gain an “imprint” from inanimate objects. If she can get her hands on critical physical evidence, she might get a reading that would provide more information than the remnants of the explosion can.

Commander Gavriel, on the other hand, is quite experienced in these matters, although not as a diplomat. His experience is as a member of the Empire’s security forces, an “Enforcer.” He has been assigned to this investigatory tribunal because one of the 46 victims on the freighter was a “True Blood,” a descendant of one of the original eight families of the Empire. With the Empire currently under military rule, that would make them royalty without portfolios, but there a fundamentalist group wants to restore the royal families to power, and there is also some evidence that True Bloods are being killed to prevent this. Two other True Bloods were recent victims, and Cullen is investigating – alone.

He doesn’t care about any “tribunal;” he intends to use Danna’s powers to advance his own investigation. Cullen himself is a True Blood. He tells Danna all this in order to gain her cooperation, not guessing that she would then spill the beans to the tribunal and wreck his plan to go solo; she is not going to let him go off on his own, treating the tribunal as irrelevant. An “imprint” she gains from a tiny scrap of debris from the explosion gives the two of them a starting point, and they are off to other planets, following where the leads take them while exploring their own explosive attraction to each other.

The mystery – the hunt for the person or persons responsible for the killings and the unraveling of the treasonous plot the murders may or may not be a part of – was the best part of the book. It featured solid intergalactic detective work that progressed in a logical, intriguing way. And while there is certainly some violence and danger, it isn’t gratuitous. Danna didn’t constantly put herself into unnecessary danger (although toward the end of the book she maybe coulda shoulda stayed out of the way) and the violence and threat-of-violence levels were appropriate (i.e. less than nauseating). I confess to some minor confusion at the conclusion, partly due to the complex political issues; when the wrap-up came, I had some difficulty remembering who was who what was a place vs. a person.

In the beginning I also found the futuristic/sci-fi/paranormal elements surprisingly compelling. There was just enough connection between most of the elements and their current Earth-based counterparts that things generally made sense without requiring long-winded explanations of everyday items – food, transportation, clothes, etc. However, while I found exploring this time/place intriguing at the outset, ultimately it grated on my nerves. Alright already, don’t make me learn any more new terms, and especially don’t take up three full pages explaining the entire Korcian military hierarchy – all 140 ranks – about three-quarters of the way through. At a certain point I began skimming anything even slightly technical (which might also explain why I was a bit confused at the conclusion). What was not adequately explained were the kind of technical details that left me wondering, like how exactly will the sex play out (is their team built like our team)? Wouldn’t it be likely that there would be significant differences between two unconnected races from different galaxies, other than their preferred position?

Finally, the romance itself was less than inspiring. While the individual characters were interesting, together they mostly made a humdrum story: I can’t get involved with him/her, it wouldn’t be professional, but I lust for him/her so, I’ve never felt this way before, the sex is stupendous yadda yadda yadda.

I found all this fascinating at the start, relatively engrossing in the middle, and rushed at the end. That seems to make a 3-heart rating logical.

--Laura Scott

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