Seeing Red is one of my story sweet spots, in part because I grew up in the diplomatic community like Cory Wilson did, except that my exposure was to many Earth-based cultures as opposed to those from other planets. Not everyone can swing that community, but Patty Jansen does a wonderful job not just of the atmosphere but the attitude such an upbringing encourages.
In case my intro didn’t make it clear, I really enjoyed this story, and look forward to reading more in the series. Don’t let my comments about diplomats fool you, though. This is an action-packed story where whole worlds hang in the balance, there’s a deadly conspiracy, and you’re never quite sure where the dominant loyalty is or should be.
The book starts by throwing you into a strange situation with strange people behaving strangely. While I appreciated how explanations were smoothly tucked in when reasonable, I was still disoriented because of the lack of grounding at first, in part because I hadn’t read the blurb so came to the book completely ignorant. However, the feeling didn’t last, and as the complexity of the situation became clear, I was able to see how any attempt at grounding from the start would have been a data dump that confused more than helped. I’m mentioning this only because the payoff for that disorientation is most definitely worth the effort unless, of course, you’re the type of reader who isn’t bothered by the mad rush beginnings where you have to accept everything on the assumption it’ll be clear later, which it was.
As that picture came together, though, Seeing Red had all the cultural conflict and complexity I could have hoped for. The impact of history, personalities, and decisions is very much a living element of the story, even when the characters (and readers) are unaware just what is driving some of the events. This series is founded on the idea of a humanoid diaspora where every different race is related somewhere in the distant past, but their environments and cultures have developed in divergent paths to the point that they don’t always understand what each other means.
There are little details to emphasize the alien nature of the situation, like Cory’s bodyguards being nameless as part of their culture. Each time he identifies them by hair color, wearing sunglasses, or some other detail it offers a subtle reminder that we’re in alien territory.
Then there’s the social structure of the gamra which is based on interweaving, often contradictory, ties of loyalty. It means Cory has difficultly knowing who is pulling the strings of those around him and where their first loyalty lies. This opens the story to neat conflicts in loyalty, logic, and manipulation, again adding to the complexity and making the truth Cory is trying to uncover even more difficult. There’s also good seeding of the details as things come back into play and turn out to be even more complex than they appeared at first.
There was a little repetition in the descriptions at times, but really, that was the only weakness I noticed in a lovely story that demonstrates the power of diplomacy, the influence of growing up in a truly international community, and how success comes through being willing to adapt and yet stand firm when necessary.
In summary since I’ve gone on long enough, Seeing Red offers a detailed, twisted tale full of mysteries to uncover and what seems to be the issue often isn’t. Once the facts are available, though, the seeding is there to support it. The beginning might have been a sink or swim toss into a complicated situation without the knowledge to understand what was happening, but it didn’t last long before I started being able to figure things out, and it certainly added to the urgency, and difficulties, with which everything comes about. I like how the global problem is recognized as a symptom and something to address rather than a fluke, while the complex balance between cultures with very different values is fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
P.S. I’m choosing to jump ahead and review Seeing Red because it is part of the latest Sci-Fi StoryBundle on storybundle.com (one I’m not part of), and that’s a limited time offer, so go check it out if you’re intrigued. I haven’t read the others, yet, but suspect I’ll find at least a few other gems.