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Justina Robson – Selling OutSelling Out is the 2nd book in Justina Robson's Quantum Gravity series (running to a – final? - 5 books), and is a good step forwards, even if the near-future-scientific-explanation-for-magic stick still doesn't really gel (or fully satisfy) for me. Nevertheless, in terms of storytelling and characterization this is much better than its predecessor, Keeping It Real.

A word of warning – this is the 2nd book in a series, and depends on the first book. From here onwards there will be spoilers which might affects your enjoyment of earlier books in the series. You were warned...

The book kicks off where Keeping It Real left off, with the exception that we don't get the description of what Lila (part human, part machine, dead Elf in her chest) and Zal (Half Elf, half Demon, Rockstar on Earth aka Otopia) got up to for 3 days after her return. For which we are thankful.

Anyway, Lila does a minimum-time debriefing, re-plenishes drugs, weapons, and ammunition for her cyborg parts, and is off again, to Demonia this time; attached to Sorcha, Zal's Demon 'sister'. Her task, at least as far as she's told (hey, she works for Incom, the human secret service messing about with the new parallel universes) is to figure out how Zal could become half-Demon, given that Elf and Demons are considered rather incompatible on any level.

Demonia is beautiful. It's full of exquisite art, stunning architecture, and incredible parties. It's full of magic, and cruelty, and death. Everything is done to excess, or at least to its fullest extent.
When she is attacked by the favourite son of a powerful family, and kills him in self defense (with Tath's help) she gets embroiled in a blood feud. Which is bad heat indeed, as one of the siblings of the dead demon is Teazle, the best demon assassin ever bred. Although Teazle is more interested in Lila (marriage?) than in killing her, which is just as well...

There's much to like in the book, from the world in plays in, and, in contrast to the first book, the much more engaging protagonists, to a story which seems to be a bit more structured now, although Lila still blunders through her life without being in control of what she does or how she reacts, never mind developing or sticking to plans. The books expands and develops the universe, cosmology, bestiary and social structures way beyond what the first one did. We now get secondary protagonists (there are parallel strands for Lila, Zal, and Malachi), and there is now more (ooh, any) Secret Service background this time. It's still not really Cloak&Dagger time, but there now appear to be hidden agendas, most people are not what the appear to be, and we feel that there are hidden machinations one or two layers below the surface, which helps a lot to create depth of story and character. Heck, we even get traces of character development in all 3 main protagonists. Good stuff.
Not everything's great, though, I stand to report. There generally is too much piled on, there are too many new concepts, new (and open) strands, new characters. It feels like the publisher agreed to the next 4 books on the back of the initial one, and Justina had to kick off for a bigger story arc - ? I also disliked being force-fed two info dumps/summaries/explanations of motivations with protagonists talking at someone who doesn't answer back. Plus there is one multi-page section with the classic life-flashing-in-front-of-eyes trick, telling the life story of a protagonist and the political development of his home. Transparent, and no really appreciated.

But generally I felt that this was a substantial improvement over the first book which had left me rather cold – Selling Out engages and absorbs, through much more focus and punch than the first instalment.
This is a – still cautious – recommendation for the book (and thus the series); the 3rd book in the series is now on order. Watch this space...

More Justina Robson


Title: Selling Out
Series: Quantum Gravity
Series Number: 2
Author: Justina Robson
Reviewer: Markus Thierstein
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Orion/Gollancz
Publisher URL: http://www.orionbooks.co.uk
Publication Date: 2007
Review Date: 110516
ISBN: 9780575082038
Price: UKP 7.99
Pages: 284
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Fantasy

 

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