Netherwood by Michele Lang

Netherwood (SHOMI)
Michele Lang

I've been wanting to read Netherwood ever since Tez pointed it out as a Shomi release that may have been overlooked by people.  It does seem like this one got less press than other ones and it's release came and went in March 08 without me noticing. The blurb sounded interesting – a futuristic story about a Sheriff after a criminal she knew in virtual realities "bad part of town" – the Netherwood while she was Amazonia and he was Avenger, competitors and lovers. Sheriff + wood makes me think Robin Hood so I was hoping that we'd see some kind of space age retelling perhaps, but this book doesn't exactly go there.

The book started off very promising with Talia Fortune, heir to FortuneCorp and new Sheriff reviewing holographic recordings of her time in Netherwood, specifically her last meeting with Avenger. She knows he's a criminal (as are all people in Netherwood), and she's tracked him to Fresh Havens where her Uncle Stone is mayor. When she arrives on the planet she discovers grave sabotage on Fresh Havens and two missing technicians. Talia *knows* the senior technician is Avenger and sets off into the Gray Forest to catch him.

Overall: I really liked the premise but the execution did not work. There were too many ideas going on which weren't very well thought out. Everything sort of sounded cool and interesting but were so vague that my suspension of disbelief wouldn't stay suspended. We have:

  • The real vs virtual world where more people spend their lives in the virtual one over the real. And within the virtual world there is the seedy underbelly called The Netherwood.
  • Big Corporations (6 of them) that took over everything.
  • Machines starting to take over everything, and people being tools for them to take over (vaguely reminds me of The Matrix).
  • The Gray Forest idea – a strange forest with strange bloodthirsty beasts. But it has it's own soul and thinks?
  • Kovner's strange abilities like viewing the future and reading/speaking into minds
  • Talia herself being "foretold" as being the only one who can save them.
  • People being able to do strange things somehow without any real explanation
  • The concept of being able to download your consciousness to the virtual world when you die and living forever, but at an unknown price.
  • Cloning, space travel, the speed of technological advances, biowarfare and so on..

If some of those ideas were taken out and saved for another book, and if more time spent on making the plot strong, I would have liked this book more. With all of the above going on, I kept seeing plot holes, inconsistencies, and incomplete explanations which weakened the whole story.

On top of that - while the hero and heroine were interesting, they began to annoy me. Kovner's zen know-it-all attitude and smiles in spite of bad news was annoying. Talia going from a gung-ho, confident young thing, to realizing she doesn't know it all, to martyr annoyed me. I believe she got very dramatic towards the end about three times about being a threat to the group! Enough already woman, we got it! And the romance itself wasn't interesting. Maybe most of it happened off-screen before they met – there was a back story to the two of them. Although Talia wants to capture Kovner, he wants to save her because of their back story, but I got no hints about what that was.  I don't see why they like each other other than they are the two main characters.

Lastly – the ending – it sort of petered off and didn't really satisfy me. I can't say much more than that.

What that didn't make this book a complete failure for me was that the writing itself was okay. Despite a couple of typos (FourtuneCorp, fingr), it flowed well (it was a first person past tense point of view in case people wanted to know). There were some interesting ideas in there, I just wish there was less. So in the end this became an average to below average read to me rather than a good read. I would not completely close the door on reading something else from this author because I think there's potential, but I'd prefer a tighter plot next time.

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