Jumpdrives & Cantrips

Law of Survival

Law of SurvivalTime for another dose of Kristine Smith‘s Jani Kilian! As you may recall, I recently reviewed the first and second books in this science fiction/mystery hybrid series. Law of Survival is the third book revolving around documents examiner and newly-made civilian Jani Kilian. My favourite part-human part-alien (idomeni) heroine moves on from the same conspiracy she’s been dealing with for the previous two books to new territory.

Jani has taken up residence in a posh condo and is taking commissions as a diplomatic advisor and a documents examiner. And of course, if all went well it wouldn’t make for a very good plot, would it? So Jani’s patchy and questionable history has been put into report form and distributed to upper level government officials, idomeni and colonial contracts cause much conflict, her idomeni mentor Nema/Tsecha gets strong-armed out of his ambassador position, Jani’s parents arrive in town, and Jani gets a botched assassination attempt. If that’s not enough Jani starts to suspect that intelligence agent Lucien, her lover, has been playing more people than she thought–perhaps even her.

Law of Survival bears out the transitioning in the second book nicely, and we’re treated to a whole host of new characters, as well as revisiting older ones in new ways. Because of this, one could read Law of Survival as a starting point in the series, but some of the encore appearances don’t receive much backstory. I found it was a little harder to keep track of all the characters and they became vaguely confusing and occasionally interchangeable (frequent thoughts while reading: “Who the–oh yeah, one of the hoity-toity officers…”). Having viewpoints limited to Jani and Tsecha/Nema also flowed together better than having more POVs as in previous books, which helped to mitigate some of the confusion, and also improved pacing.

Rules of SurvivalIn this particular book we get to see more of Jani’s emotional range, which is always welcome. What with reuniting her with her family, dealing with more guilt (from actions in this book and not nearly two decades ago), and the potential betrayal of her lover, we get to see more of Jani’s “feeling” headspace than before. Jani also must deal with her feelings about her hybridization and how she accepts herself–and sometimes doesn’t. In fact, if the last book was about accepting her past, this book started to look at Jani’s future and her lack of acceptance of it. Smith really does some great character development within these first three books of the series, and I hope it continues on.

As a side note: while I’m glad Jani is no longer throwing up and having stomach cramps all the time as part of the hybridization, this seemed to get replaced with knee pain of all things. This was odd considering Jani regenerated miraculously from near-death at full tilt in the previous book. With all of the advanced healing technology, no one can do anything about a piddly little sore knee? OK, I’m done being nit-picky now.

This book takes some of the colonial vs. Earth and human vs. idomeni politics that were always present and brings them more into the forefront. Specific events are given situating contexts, and the flow of plot between all three books gets tied in together. Smith also frames her world better than it has been before; places from the previous books get put into better context. The idomeni Ha├írin caste–those who lose their souls through profane human contact, but provide profit and information–also takes more overt political steps in this book. The situation between all the vying parties promises much future story fodder.

While idomeni and human for the most part remain distinct, I was impressed with Smith’s demonstration of each of the cultural groups learning from one another. The physical hybridization taking place through Jani also points to a social hybridization occurring despite the wishes of either group. Far more realistic than many writers’ takes on human/alien relations, and also thought provoking that such ideas are not as common as they might otherwise be in a genre fraught with representations of “the other.”

The Jani Kilian books consistently get better. I think I’m stuck: I’m a Kristine Smith fan.

Smith, Kristine. Law of Survival. Rules of Survival Omnibus Edition. New York: Science Fiction Book Club, 2007. Pp. 629-980. $18.99 (Canadian) via SFBC.