October 20, 2010

In the Dark of Dreams by Marjorie M Liu

In the Dark of Dreams

Marjorie M. Liu

Grade: D

It pains me to write this, but I think Marjorie Liu's Dirk & Steele series jumped the shark with In the Dark of Dreams. Like all the books in this series, I couldn't put it down, but unlike my experience with the earlier installments - which kept me continually turning the page out of excitement - this time I couldn't stop reading because I couldn't figure out what the hell fuck was going on. Liu eventually makes sense of it all near the book's end, but by that time my frustration level was through the roof. Equally as annoying is that Liu chose this book to explain the genesis of The Consortium, and to connect some of the previous stories' loose ends. Long-time readers of the series deserved a better vehicle for this information.

Jenny first encountered Perrin on the beach when both were children and for many years the merman and the woman whose history is littered with pain shared each others dreams. But when he was exiled and forced to go to land, their connection ended...until Jenny, who works as a marine biologist for the legitimate off-shoot of her family's nefarious business, discovered the body of a dead mermaid. The death triggers a chain of events that could have cataclysmic results for humanity. It forces Perrin to seek out Dirk & Steele and links Jenny to him once again.

To say that Perrin suffers from self-loathing puts it mildly; to say that he is reviled by other paranormals who live in the sea is also true, but Liu takes forever to state his case. Until then he comes across simply as a tortured seven-foot albino with startlingly blue eyes who will do anything to protect Jenny and save the world. Which is laudable, of course, but without context his strangeness mostly seems...strange.

As for Jenny, after the death of the mermaid she goes diving and a parasite of some sort attaches itself to the base of her skull. She becomes violently ill, and as the parasite becomes a part of her, she begins to change. For a good half the book I wanted to scream, "Jenny, tell Perrin about the goddamned parasite!!!", but it's only much later that the author reveals why she did not and could not. I've not even hit upon the danger to Jenny by a long-time friend and members of her family, which prompts Perrin to rescue her, but that's because - once more - motives are revealed in such a piece-meal fashion.

The book is filled with action and death, and the interaction with Dirk & Steele agents is limited to the pyrokinetic Eddie and Rik the dolphin shifter, the latter of whom harbors a deep hatred of Perrin. As with most of the important facts that the author fails to divulge early on, we learn quite late how familiar Jenny is with Dirk & Steele, its history, and its members. If it was Liu's intention to keep readers as off balance as her lead characters, she succeeded...but not in a good way.

I realize I'm sounding like a broken record, but Jenny and Perrin's connection only began to make sense to me quite late in the story. Yes, throughout the book references are made to their childhood meeting and their dreams of one another, but I never felt them as a couple until they actively work together to prevent that cataclysm. As for a sexual charge between them, once more Liu delays their coming together. That's not been a problem for me in some of the other books in this series, but because I remained clueless for so long, and because Perrin remains so mysterious, I had no real interest in them as a couple until shortly before the book ended.

What saves the book from total failure is that when all the threads tie together in the last fifth, when it all falls into place and makes sense, the story became the magical read I'd looked for all along. Unfortunately, my frustration level by then was impossible to mitigate. I'll give Liu one more Dirk & Steele book to redeem herself, but unless she writes the book of her life, I'm giving up the series for good.

In the Dark of Dreams won't be released until December; I read an advance copy provided by the publisher.


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