Raven Song (Inoki’s Game #1)
by I.A. Ashcroft.
A century from now, after widespread nuclear war, humanity is clinging to a few select cities, kept safe from radiation by their force field domes. Jackson is a legit businessman and less-legit smuggler, making ends meet and sailing through life. And it would be smooth sailing, except for some troubling dreams, hallucinations of extinct ravens, and his own finicky magic. Then a big government contract lands in his lap, and it’s too good to pass up. Except the cargo is not a thing, but a person. And she is definitely not normal, definitely not local- and very much about to be in a world of trouble and need help. Jackson suddenly finds himself smack in the middle of a power struggle between the government, a rogue agent, and the magic-wielders, with his own power and destiny suddenly come calling.
This book has an interesting mix of science fiction and fantasy elements. On the sci-fi side, you have the anti-radiation tech, questionable experiments, and time travel. On the fantasy side, you have magic powers, mysterious beings, and dreams that maybe aren’t really dreams. And, surprisingly, this all works well together. There’s not a jarring dissonance between these difference forces, they’re just all part of the world.
Jackson as one of the two main characters is… ok. For someone who is supposed to be a successful smuggler, I found him frustratingly naive and even willfully ignorant at times. My annoyance at him would occasionally draw me out of the story. It did get better, after a certain near-death experience turning point. Anna, the other main character, I found much more intriguing. Her bewilderment and temper (depending on the situation) were equally believable. I very much want to know more about her back story: how she got from her past to this present. We get enough of that for a first book in a series, but she is definitely the hook that will get me to read book 2.
The minor characters tended to be a bit one-note, unfortunately. Frank was your typical gruff older sidekick-slash-father-figure. Agent Walker was like a copy of Agent Smith from the Matrix, sunglasses obsession and all. I am intrigued by the starry-eyed figure that appears in Jackson’s dreams, and whom I suspect is responsible for his adoptive history.
The part of this book that REALLY didn’t work for me was the entire Tony storyline. To me, it was a messy, gimmicky way to reveal a certain government project. There were so many (better!) ways this could have been handled. It didn’t advance the Anna storyline (other than I guess to give her an excuse to stretch her powers, which again could’ve been done a better way). And it certainly didn’t advance Jackson’s storyline, aside from a childhood trauma that has no other bearing on the story, and vague hints at Jackson’s destiny. It was a clumsy way to separate the two main characters, and by the time they are reunited, not a whole lot has changed, so what was the point?
That aside, the rest of the plotlines were more interesting. I want to know more about the history of the magical Order and their exact beef with Jackson. I want to know more about Anna’s history and how she ended up there. I want to know about both of their powers and the why behind them. By the end, I was even curious about Agent Walker and his apparent crew.
So, there’s potential here. And I will be picking up book 2, though I’ll have to wait awhile for it. If you like dark urban fantasy with a smidge of sci-fi, give this a try.