by Marjorie M Liu, fantasy (2008)
Leisure, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-5767-9
Looking at the cover of Marjorie M Liu's The Last Twilight, I wonder if the publisher is doing her some kind of disservice with a pretty but generic cover that does not give any indication as to what the story between the covers is like. As part of the author's long-running and successful series Dirk & Steele, this book deserves something that has more urban fantasy elements, no?
This time around, we get the story of Amiri, the werecheetah who first appeared in Shadow Touch. If you have read that book, you may recall that Amiri was one of the ragtag bunch of shapeshifters that were held prisoner by the nefarious Consortium until Dirk & Steele operative Artur Loginov and Elena Baxter freed them all. Amiri now works for Dirk & Steele and in this story, he's called back to the land he has never wanted to return - the motherland of Africa. Okay, he is called to Zaire when he was actually from another country in the continent, but still, you get the idea.
Amiri along with fellow operatives Max and Eddie have a mission. You see, there is an outbreak of a mysterious but very deadly plague in Zaire and our operatives have been charged to keep Dr Regina "Rikki" Kinn safe. Regina has flown right into the Hot Zone, as the areas most heavily hit by the plague are called, to do whatever is necessary to contain this plague. Yet, for some reason, there have been various attempts made on Rikki's life when you'd think people will want this dedicated doctor alive rather than dead. Therefore, it is up to the gang to keep Rikki safe and figure out why she's on someone's hit list.
This is just a basic summary of the story. Many more things happen, believe me, because this book has non-stop action from start to finish. My husband who have read this book before me - and I think it says something that this author's books are among those few that he can read without feeling that his masculinity has been threatened or something - thinks that this book is more like a comic book than a romance novel and I believe I'll agree with him. The characters here kick ass. Rikki is tough and can hold her own when the going gets tough, a fact that the reader immediately learns from page one, while Amiri is somewhat conflicted about his nature but he gets things done, no problem. Dirk & Steele is the new Justice League of America, except that Ms Liu is clearly more democratic than DC Comics so this is more like the Justice League of United Nations instead of just America.
Perhaps comparisons of the early few chapters of this story to the Dustin Hoffman movie Outbreak are inevitable, although it bears noting that the comparisons are cosmetic in nature. Besides, if we have to keep up the comparisons, Rikki is playing the role of Colonel Sam Daniels and that, if you ask me, is too cool for words. The action comes fast and relentlessly, with appropriate quiet scenes to allow the characters - and me - to catch their breath. The Last Twilight is really a most enjoyable adrenaline rush of a read that way.
If I have one quibble, it's that I end up finding the story much more memorable than the characters. I don't really get much of an impression of the main characters apart from the fact that Rikki kicks butt while Amiri is rather bland compared to the author's other heroes but he isn't too bad, really. I wonder why Amiri is so bland. Is it because he's stuck in the role of the Sage and Sanguine Black Guy in the Dirk & Steele organization and therefore he's pretty bland as a result? I'd like to see this guy grin, crack a naughty joke, or something, but I guess he's just not that kind of guy. Still, it is quite a stereotype to have the Black guy to be a serious, stoic, and enlightened type. Think of those action men played by Djimon Hounsou, Laurence Fishburne, and such in mainstream Hollywood movies produced by white people. That's Amiri, sigh.
No matter. So the main characters don't really measure up to the author's previous characters in terms of memorability but The Last Twilight sure knows how to kick the pace up a notch and give me a most thrilling read from start to finish.
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