Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01901-4
A Wild Light is the third book in Marjorie Liu’s Hunter Kiss series. This story in this one is knee-deep in canon, but I have this hunch that you can follow this book pretty well without having read the previous two books first. This is because the author lays down the back story pretty clearly in this book. I don’t see why you should start the series with this book if you are new, but if you are stuck in the airport with only this book to read, for example, you’d be just fine.
This latest installment has fewer action scenes compared to the previous books, as it is more of an exploration of the secret histories of not only Maxine but also her demons, the Avatars, the Reapers, and more. The seeds of this story were planted in the previous book, Darkness Calls, and here, events are catalyzed when Maxine wakes up the morning after her 27th birthday with no memory of who she is. Worse, she finds the dead body of her grandfather, Jack, with her knife placed in a most incriminating manner in the scene of crime. Oh, don’t get as excited as I did at first – that freaking walking lymphoma won’t stay dead for long.
While she slowly regains memory of who she is, she can’t remember her boyfriend Grant at all. Meanwhile, mysterious and even sinister events pile up, forcing Maxine to discover more about her past even as she gets ready for the confrontation with the bad guys. Except in her case, as she learns more about her past and that of the women that came before her, she begins to wonder who the bad guys really are in this story. Perhaps even her entire existence has been built on a false truth, who knows.
Of all the authors who made their debut in the romance genre, Marjorie M Liu is the closest in style to that of a true blue science fiction and fantasy author. Her style is more “literary” than your average paranormal and fantasy romance author’s – she isn’t afraid of utilizing muddled chronology, flashbacks, deliberately opaque fragmented sentences, and other techniques that will cause some readers to grit their teeth in annoyance. I know more than a few friends who find Ms Liu’s books hard to follow, and I don’t blame them, because sometimes I don’t quite follow the author myself, heh. But this wild and crazy style works for Ms Liu very well indeed, especially in this book.
For example, normally I’d snort in disbelief when the true identities of Maxine’s five adorable shadow demons are revealed, but Ms Liu sells me the premise like a born storyteller. This story is a rich, very textured, and complex exploration of the past, so much so that the plot in this story seems like a throwaway contrivance to catalyze Maxine’s journey of self-discovery. But I don’t mind this at all, because discovering every fascinating detail of this world slowly peeled away is a most absorbing and enjoyable experience. I should know – I read this while on the LRT this afternoon, and I didn’t even know I missed my stop until the train pulled up at the final stop.
I also love how, aside from discovering more about the origins of her foes and allies as well as the history of her mother and grandmother, Maxine also learns enough to finally make peace with the memories of her mother. Finally, she realizes that she is loved all this while. Her mother might not show it overly when she was alive, but Maxine remembers enough now to realize that she has always had her mother’s love. As for Grant, he makes me shed a few tears, he really did, every time he becomes the anchor in Maxine’s emotional turmoil. Maybe in another author’s hand, Grant will come off as too corny for words, but in this one, he is exactly what Maxine needs, and bless him for that.
It is also pretty amusing how affected I am by Maxine’s pregnancy. Usually I’d be cynical enough to snort when an author pulls a stunt like this, but in this story, the pregnancy angle adds another layer of bittersweet poignancy to Maxine’s story. Remember, when her daughter is old enough, the demons will move on to her, leaving Maxine vulnerable to the machinations of the enemies she’d made in her lifetime. Very few Hunters survive long after giving birth to a child, and Maxine knows this. And yet, the fact that Maxine is pregnant also allows her to come to a poignant full circle in this story. She finally discovers that she is not alone, that she has been and is loved, and now, she is going to have a child as a result of finally letting down her defenses and loving another person – the same child that can very well leave her vulnerable one day in the near future. I think there is a message here about taking risks and not taking one’s life for granted, but I will leave all those feel good sentiments to greeting cards.
The only downside to this story is the continuous existence of Jack. Why oh why can’t that annoying and totally useless wretch die? He is the author’s plot device to totally exasperate me, I swear, because that man can’t speak directly. When he finally possesses another body to plague the story, Maxine asks him who killed him in his previous body. His answer is to insist that Maxine should have remembered. OH FOR CHICKEN’S SAKE JUST TELL HER ALREADY OR I AM GOING TO GNAW OFF A KITTEN’S HEAD IN DISGUST. I especially love how, after declaring that he was a coward and therefore implying that he would do something dramatic late in the story, he runs straight into the enemies, gets captured, and has to be rescued by Maxine. FOR THE LOVE OF GNUS, PLEASE JUST KILL OFF THIS OBNOXIOUS WASTE OF SPACE, JUST FREAKING KILL IT, KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT!!!!!!
Ahem. Aside from that ugly pustule of an imbecile character, A Wild Light is like a creepy-beautiful dream to read. I feel that this is easily the best book in the series so far. The next book will have a lot of pressure to live up to, but I think Ms Liu can start by killing off Jack, preferably slowly and painfully.