Review: Rangers at Roadsend

by Tina Holmboe 1th of December 2009 (archive)

I’d be dead without books. No, honestly. A day, perhaps two, is all that I can manage without reading. (Warning: There be spoilers ahead)

This tends to mean that I read most everything I can lay my paws ’pon, including the odd LGBT volume. I say odd, because they are not only far and few between, but highly variable in quality.

Of course … the same applies to non–LGBT literature. It just seems so much worse since the number of books with LGBT characters period is comparatively non–existent. Who will spot a couple of dozen badly written, plot–less books amongst a thousand new releases? When it comes to the LGBT genre we’re talking dozens of releases and rotten apples suddenly stand out a lot more.

One author which, quite against the tide, is producing consistently good — and consistent — books, is Jane Fletcher.

Sergeant Chip Coppelli escaped the manipulative plots of her powerful family by becoming a soldier. After 9 years in the elite Rangers, dealing with thugs and wild predators, she has learned to spot trouble coming — and that is exactly what she sees in the mystery surrounding her new recruit, Katryn Nagata. But even so, Chip was not expecting murder.

That’s the blurb for the pocket–book version of «Rangers at Roadsend», a Celaeno world mystery slash romance slash fantasy story.

Let’s face it: a great many books in either genre are crap. Not because they are necessarily bad — a philosophical concept I shall do my utmost to avoid — but because they are poorly executed. Fantasy books easily fall pray to the Tolkien–syndrome; mysteries have plot holes so large that PC Plod couldn’t avoid seeing through them, and romances get, well, soggy. I’ve read fanfic matching up Disney’s Kim Possible with her arch–nemesis Shego that, overall, do a better job of depicting romance than a great many established authors.

Jane Fletcher does better than many. Her world — Celaeno — is well described, with just enough detail to make it «real» in the mind, and without the overly rich descriptions some fantasy–smiths tends towards.

Her characters are the same, with a variety of traits to avoid them becoming two–dimensional — at least the primary actors. Secondary characters have less back–story and less personality. No surprise, and no complaints.

The story is a mystery set on a planet colonised by humans, hit by disease, and now supporting a population mostly unawares of their past. The two main characters — Chip and Katryn — make up the unlikely romance (A sergeant and a private. Gotta be trouble)

As mysteries go it is tight, and suspenseful, although with a slow pace which fits the setting perfectly. The Rangers take time to move from one location to another; investigations are complicated for that reason alone. Chip Coppelli, rough, tough Ranger by reputation, makes an unlikely detective, but does, in the end, get her woman — after also getting it wrong three times. Sherlock Holmes she is not, yet she is more human for it, and each time the author presents a compelling case with only tiny holes the reader is almost taunted into spotting. Well done, you.

On the fantasy side of things I find the world built to a fully acceptable level of realism. There is no Tolkien here; no elves, no trolls, but rather a medieval–ish life with the odd near–magical skills thrown in. Nearly all is based in science, albeit science I am not qualified to comment ’pon — yet I cannot help believing that a quadruped feline developed on a different planet that our own find it impossible to actually eat us. The lions of this world get ill if they try to have humans for supper.

It’s well built, basically, with the odd piece of humour thrown in. I’d say that the author has studied history, and noticed the way facts become stories, and stories become myth. The moons of Celaeno are called «Laurel» and «Hardie». Yes. No–one living at the time of these stories know why they are so named, much less who the naming refer to.

Which leaves Romance. Oh, yes; Sgt. Coppelli does get her woman, both the one that doesn’t want to be caught (the murderer), and the one that does (the Private). In the end it is her Captain which solve the chain–of–command problem, so rest assured it is also a happy romance – one built over the course of the entire book, slowly and with the occasional false start which, granted, leaves our heroine appearing just a little bit thick. Sorry, Chip.

All in all a worth–while read, and, more importantly, a book I’ll read twice. Actually, I have. It’s on the read–thrice shortlist and it might not even stop there.