19 September 2020

Review - Prime Deceptions by Valerie Valdes

Cover by Julie Dillon
Prime Deceptions (Chilling Effect, 2)
Valerie Valdes
Orbit, 17 September 2020
Available as: PB, 436pp, e
Source: Advance e-copy via NetGalley
ISBN: 9780356514437

I'm grateful to Orbit for a free advance e-copy of Prime Deceptions via NetGalley.

In this sequel to Chilling Effect, we're given another chance to sign up with Captain Eva Innocente and her crew aboard the space freighter/ smuggler/ gunrunner La Sirena Negra ('a small ship whose business was composed entirely of side hustles') for another series of madcap adventures. This time, having spent several months prodding the dangerous beast that is The Fridge criminal collective, Eva accepts a commission to track down Josh, scientist brother to her engineer (and retired bank robber) Sue ('I really like your arm cannon. Is that modular?') Having worked for The Fridge, Josh's knowledge of the powerful, banned, ancient Proarkhe tech is considered useful and needed for a Very Secret project.

And at one level that's all you need to know. Eva, co-captain Pink, Min, Vakar and the rest - not to forget the pack of psychic cats who have taken up residence on La Sirena Negra - set about their quest with gusto, beginning with a visit to a perpetual fan con and proceeding to a bot-fighting arena where Eva reencounters one of her least favourite humans, 'Miles fucking Erck', the man who begins every sentence with 'Well, actually...' It's all rather fun, rather genial mayhem, punctuated by speculation about what's really going on, passion between crewmembers and attempts (largely unsuccessful) to keep the cats in line.

But then things get... a bit darker.

You'll recall from Chilling Effect (and you really should read it first) the impact of Eva keeping secrets. Well, she still has one zinger of a secret - and it's to do with the most shameful episode of her life, something she did while working as a mercenary.

Something that won her the title Hero of Garilia...

...or, depending who you're talking to, Butcher of Garilia.

Now, she's going back to Garilia - the one place in the universe Eva really, really wanted never to see again.

Changing the tone of the book to several moods darker, Valdes takes Eva to places and events in her memory she'd hoped to leave buried ('Action meant control, and control was something Eva needed, even if it was an illusion.') And it's not just all in the past: what she did has consequences now both for the inhabitants of Garilia and possibly for the wider universe. Eva has to come to terms with her memories quickly.

Oh, and her mother's turned up as well, also on some super-secret mission.

I loved the family dynamics between Regina and Eva (and also between Eva and her sister Mari). It's genuinely - and generously - portrayed: it would be easy to have Regina come over as a clichéd scary mother and to a degree she is. But this is a complex and deep relationship which also takes in the secrets (again) that Eva kept from her mum when working for her father, and the history between the two sister. There is genuine emotional force here, well realised and at times, rather touching.

It would be easy, I think, to take some of this darkness and family stuff as just slowing the pace down and putting off the fights. Don't fall into that mistake! There is much, much more here than just a breadcrumb trail between hectic combat sequences, and everything has its place and its time in a story that takes in PTSD, moral dilemmas, and guilt as well as silly banter between friends, trust, and, yes, a great sense of wonder and fun (messing up a target's navigation stems by convincing them that they're installing a false software update? A straight faced remark that 'The fourth wall had apparently been broken recently').

This is an unmissable followup to Chilling Effect and, due to some Galaxy-shaking events, sets the next volume up as being pretty epic too, I think.

For more information about Prime Deceptions, see the publisher's website here.

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