Thursday, August 1, 2013

Review - Gemini Rising: Ethereal Fury by Jessia O'Gorek

Short review: Mother Earth uses the spirits of humans who damaged her during their lifetimes to attempt to exterminate humanity. Humanity is defended by unpleasant and obnoxious priests. In the middle of this conflict, a spirit falls in love with a teenage girl.

Angry Mother Earth
Sends spirits to avenge her
Exterminate us

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Gemini Rising: Ethereal Fury is something of a love story between a magical being called Onyx and a sixteen year old human girl named Violette. The book is set against a backdrop in which the spirit of the Earth itself has turned against humanity for despoiling her surface, sending disembodied spirits called "Gemini" who have been charged with a single purpose: To destroy the human race. Somewhat clumsily opposing them are the men of the cloth, using a combination of church rituals and medical science to foil, trap, and they hope, destroy, the inimical foes that they barely understand.

The first chapter of the book gives a series of vignettes of the life of petroleum engineer and later oil executive Oliver Weldon as he figures out how to cheaply export oil extracted from the Niger River delta, resulting in large volumes of ecological damage. Because pointing out the fact that Weldon has presided over decades of oil spills and fires in Nigeria isn't enough to show the reader he is a villain, we are also told that he is a philandering husband for no real apparent reason. After a lifetime spent doing evil, Weldon has a heart attack and dies, at which point the Earth selects his spirit as a candidate to be resurrected as one of her minions bent on destroying humanity. Weldon is given the new name Onyx and essentially forgets everything about his former life, making selecting Weldon in particular for this purpose somewhat pointless. If the newly minted Gemini are going to have their memories wiped, why pick one dead human's spirit over another? It seems clear that choosing such humans to fill these roles is intended as a form of poetic punishment, but given the complete lack of understanding on the part of those serving and the utter irrelevance of their previous knowledge to their assigned mission, there just doesn't seem to be any purpose. In a sense, this element is like shooting an already dead body because you didn't like the person when they were alive. It is pointless and futile at best, and because one would assume they would work at cross-purposes to Earth's goals if they did become aware of their pasts, counterproductive at worst.

Arrayed against the Earth's disembodied assassins are the clergy, specifically in the case of this story, the clergy of the Catholic church who run a small school for orphaned children in Virginia. One of these children is the waifish and extraordinarily beautiful seventeen year old Violette, who naturally has purple eyes. Also living at the school is the slightly older Slate, who the priest Father Darius considers to be his protégé, and who Violette seems to have something of a crush on. The anti-Gemini organization in the area appears to be run by Bishop Phillips, who turns out to be a fairly unpleasant man. In fact, all of the clergy who show up in the book are fairly unpleasant. And this creates one of the more interesting conflicts in the book: does the reader root for the murderous Gemini who want to exterminate humanity, or does one root for the vain, petty, and vicious clergymen who have secretly undertaken the task of defending humanity against the Gemini? Other than Violette, whose main character trait appears to be that she is naive and innocent, and Slate, who is a moderately nice but mostly passive guy, there are no characters in the book who one wants to side with. Were it not for Violette, one might be tempted to simply say to hell with humanity and hope that the Gemini eliminate us all quickly.

As an aside, I have no idea why the chosen spiritual avengers of the Earth are called the "Gemini". In mythology the Gemini were the twins Castor and Pollux, and the name has become associated with twins ever since. But the Gemini in the book seem to bear no relationship to this meaning, as they certainly don't seem to be twins, and are only siblings in the loosest sense of the word. Perhaps the name is intended to signify that these chosen spirits are now brothers (or sisters) with the Earth, but if so, that wasn't particularly clear from the text. In the end, I am left wondering if there is any reason why they call themselves Gemini other than O'Gorek thought it seemed like an interesting name.

The book focuses on Onyx's assignment to infiltrate Violette and Slate's small religious community and destroy it by murdering every inhabitant, which is merely the next step in a campaign of wanton destruction that the Gemini have been waging against the religious strongholds of the United States. Perhaps it is a measure of the isolation of the inhabitants of the orphanage, but the extent of this campaign comes as a complete surprise to Slate when Bishop Phillips and Father Darius reveal it to him, even though widespread and unexplained murder and arson on the scale described would likely have resulted in screaming headlines plastered across all of the news outlets of the country. The twist in the story is that Onyx is distracted from his mission of vicarious vengeance when he becomes infatuated with Violette for what appear to be fairly weak reasons: She has a pretty singing voice, and she is pretty and innocent looking.

The ensuing creepy and odd romance, which is clearly intended to be the core of the book, was, for me, by far the weakest part of the book. O'Gorek sets up a strange love triangle involving Violette, Onyx, and Slate, made unusual by the fact that the only way Onyx can really interact with Violette as anything other than a disembodied smoky apparition is to possess Slate. Consequently, for much of the "courtship" between Violette and Onyx, she thinks that he is actually Slate expressing interest and falling in love with her. The romantic story line isn't particularly helped by the fact that there appears to be almost no reason for Onyx to become infatuated with Violette. She's pretty, and plays with her hair a lot, and we are told she is able to sing beautifully. And that seems to be about all that she is. She's fairly shallow, and doesn't seem to have much personality, which isn't particularly surprising given that she's a teenage girl who has been raised in what amounts to a cloistered environment. But even though her blandness is explainable, it doesn't leave any particularly compelling reason for Onyx to fall for her. One might say that her innocence and vulnerability would make Onyx want to protect her, but one could say the same thing of numerous characters that Onyx is dead-set on killing.

It is probably a sign indicating how good a paranormal romance novel is that one can be unconvinced by and uninterested in the flagship romance in the book and still find it enjoyable to read. And that's where Gemini Rising sits for me. The problem with the book boils down to the undeveloped character of Violette which made Onyx's risky infatuation with her simply inexplicable. I could understand why Slate would be interested in Violette - for him she was more or less the only available girl around - but for Onyx it just seemed implausible. If Violette had some content to her character more substantial than a singing voice attached to long hair and purple eyes then Onyx becoming smitten with her would have rung true. She could have been committed to living in harmony with the Earth, or shown some inherent good trait of humanity, or some other attribute that challenged Onyx's accepted truth that humanity is a plague that needs to be destroyed. But she isn't. She's just a pretty face attached to an empty brain that turned Onyx's head and nothing more. And that is simply disappointing.

But what makes the book interesting is not the romance between a teenager and the disembodied spirit of a middle-aged oil tycoon reincarnated as an angel of death. The real meat of the book is in the questions that it raises: Can humanity find a way to prevent the Gemini from killing the entire race? Can the Earth just keep creating new Gemini to replace the ones imprisoned or destroyed making human resistance pointless? Can a nonviolent resolution to the conflict be found? Is there a particular reason why all of humanity's defenders seem to be bullies and jerks? Why does the Earth like fish but hate humans? And so on. But the book doesn't resolve any of these questions, or even the high school romance that it focuses on, choosing instead to end more or less in media res. What story there is in Gemini Rising is good, but the plot lines all just stop mid-stream, leaving this book feeling not so much like a complete story, but rather like little more than a well-written prologue to the real story which will come in later books in the series.

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