Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-937007-85-0
Labyrinth of Stars is the final entry in Marjorie M Liu’s Hunter Kiss series, and, naturally, people new to the series shouldn’t start with this one. Not because this one resolves dangling plots or anything, mind you. It’s just that this book is basically about Maxine Kiss and her husband Grant waffling and wringing their hands while everyone around them dies or suffers, all the way until it’s time to call it a day. This review mentions some things that can be considered spoilers for previous books, so you know what to do.
In this story, Maxine and Grant have leveled up and gain powers that make them basically exalted characters if we want to use tabletop RPG terms here. She is practically a Goddess with a capital G, while Grant, mostly through means not fully explained, is now the supreme overlord of two disparate demon clans. The child Maxine is carrying is destined to be an awesome being because she has the awesome powers of both Mommy and Daddy. Now that the demons are basically the subjects of our two supreme beings, the only foes left are the Aetar, who decide to strike here by infecting some humans with a virus that pass on to demons that consume them, and from there, infect other demons to the point that a complete genocide of all demon races seem inevitable. Normally, this would mean, “Yay! Happy ending for people!” as the demons had been the enemies in the last four books.
That’s the problem of this story in a nutshell: the enemies are in trouble, and normally, this is a great development. Because there has to be a story here, however, it’s basically Maxine and Grant wanting to play god and failing miserably at it. The climax of this show isn’t a glorious confrontation with the bad guy – it’s the two of them realizing how selfish they have been in their desire to one-up one another on who is the one suffering the most nobly for their love, and how much they have screwed up things up in the process. “Yay, we’re both fuck-ups!” may be a good epiphany in a comedy, I guess, in the context of this story, especially in the last book in the entire series, I don’t think so.
The whining goddess trope is never one of my favorites in urban fantasy, mostly because it revolves around individuals with great power moping about the great responsibilities that come with it, without actually doing much to overcome these perceived limitations.
Here, Grant needs to allow his demons to hunt and kill, but because he is too noble to see his demons kill people, he basically force his subjects to starve or – in the case of one tribe – cannibalize one another. And yet, he keeps them alive because, as he says, he can’t bear to let them die after Maxine killed their bosses. Something tells me that, if you ask the demons, they would say that they’d rather have died. And yet, Grant has no problems using his demons to kill threats – humans or otherwise – because he’s such a holier-than-thou hypocrite like that. His kill count is considerable and he always attack to kill without question, but he has the nerve to accuse Maxine of being the bloodthirsty one and Maxine never calls him on it.
Maxine, with the Goddess inside her, could have done something, I guess, but she spends the entire story whining and moping that she can’t bear to see anyone and anything die. Of course, like Grant, she has no problems letting the demons starve because, you know, it’s so hard for her to decide on anything so, oh god, life sucks. I’m sure the starving demons would sympathize, and so would the humans that get killed when the demons became too hungry because Maxine and Grant are too “noble” to feed them. I mean, these demons are already killing people anyway, so why not just find some truly irredeemable psychos and feed them to the demons in the first place? Or just let the demons die already because, you know, demons?
Poor Maxine seems to have lost all her spine and intellect here. Maybe it’s her pregnancy, or maybe it’s the Dana Scully syndrome – a strong woman whose pregnancy automatically turns her into a hapless damsel needing direction and support from the men around her, just like how Scully in one particular episode spends the whole time in a wheelchair being pushed around by Skinner and Doggett – but here she is a pale shadow of her self in previous books. Here, she’s indecisive, uncertain of everything, and becomes too emotional to the point of having her judgment clouded because of this. If Grant is an asshole here, Maxine is the twit.
And, as I’ve mentioned, there is hardly any appropriate climatic moment to send the series off gloriously into the sunset. Just the two of them going, hey, we’ve been losers, and still be rewarded anyway with even more power boost and a happy ending of some sort.
Labyrinth of Stars like more like a maze of wretchedness. How tragic that the series just have to nosedive like this in the final book, ugh. I’d just pretend that the series ended in the last book and consign this off into the drawer labelled Let’s Never Speak of This Again.
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