Adrienne Martini Reviews A Chain Across the Dawn by Drew Williams and The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford

A Chain Across the Dawn, Drew Williams (Tor 978-1-250-18614-0, $27.99, 320pp, hc) May 2019.

Drew Williams’s A Chain Across the Dawn delivers all of the sensawunda space opera that his first book (The Stars Now Unclaimed) did, which isn’t a huge surprise since it picks up a couple of years after his debut novel left off. Jane, an explorer/badass who is looking for kids with gifts, is on the hunt with young Esa, one of said kids with gifts. They’ve been traveling and training together. Their work has gone well.

Until Kandriad, which is where this story opens. Two factions on the planet are in the middle of a bitter war, which makes the mission challenging enough. Then a third party arrives, one from off of the planet and who seems to be immune to the pulse radiation that has rendered the world’s tech unusable. From there, things go pear-shaped. It gets worse when the team discovers that their new foe is a) relentless and b) unkillable.

A Chain Across the Dawn proves that The Stars Now Unclaimed wasn’t a fluke. Williams knows how to build worlds and characters that entertain and intrigue. This story gives him a chance to deepen what we know about Jane, Esa, and the ragtag group of rebels who interact with them. It doesn’t skimp on action, either. The only quibble might be that some of these characters (like Esa and Sho, who is rescued in A Chain Across the Dawn) should have a lot more trauma to work through than they do. That quibble, however, might be a sign of how well-drawn these characters are in first place. They feel real enough to make you want more.

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind, Jackson Ford (Orbit 978-0-316-51915-1, $15.99, 497pp, tp) June 2019.

The short review: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind does exactly what it says on the tin. It is about a girl (actually, a woman in her twenties) who can move non-organic objects with her brain. Trouble ensues. Plots develop. Sh*t is moved. The end. A good time is had by all.

The longer review: Teagan, said woman, is one-of-a-kind. Because of her unusual past, which Ford does a great job of building into the narrative, Teagan works for a shadowy govern­ment agency responsible for black bag ops like industrial espionage and clandestine mayhem. She’s part of a team who work out of the China Shop, a moving company in LA. On any given day, they could be moving sofas or spyware. One provides cover for the other.

It’s all going well enough for Teagan until a body turns up with rebar wrapped around his neck. The decedent is a wealthy dude they’d just been sent to surveill and Teagan is the only one with the power to do that to metal – she’d also had plenty of time to do it – but she didn’t. That means there’s another person who can move sh*t with their mind out there. The gang, who are dealing with more than a few interpersonal conflicts, chases across a burning city to find their killer.

Ford (a pseudonym, according to his author’s page) knows how to build characters and chase scenes. Teagan keeps revealing new dimensions and her voice carries the story, which can be a problem when Ford switches to another view­point character. It feels jarring when we’ve spent so much time seeing this world through Teagan’s eyes and the other character doesn’t feel nearly as nuanced as she does, but that’s a minor quibble. On the whole, the writing and storytelling is as clear and fun as the title indicates.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the December 2019 issue of Locus.

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