I checked this book out because it was in Freading's “space opera” section, I liked the cover, and the description was coherent and made it sound like I'd be in for a lot of action. I'm happy to say that my decision was a good one, and I fully intend to download the second book in the trilogy once I've finished writing this review. Although this was originally published in 1987, it has aged pretty well.
At the beginning of Liege-Killer, someone has gone to the ruins of Earth and secretly revived two people from stasis. Those people turn out to be Reemul, a deadly Paratwa. Each Paratwa is a single mind that happens to have two bodies, called tways. One tway can maneuver a target while the other one swoops in for the kill.
A few hundred years ago, a few thousand Paratwa were responsible for the deaths of millions of humans. They were halted only by the Apocalypse (Earth, ruined to the point of being unlivable) and E-Tech, a group that believed science had run amok and should be tightly locked down and controlled. In the book's present, E-Tech is still in power, but only just. Then the Paratwa Reemul reappears and goes on periodic killing sprees, and E-Tech gradually regains the public's support.
I don't know if there's another, better subgenre term for it, but the bulk of this book was basically a science fiction thriller. Readers got various pieces of the overall puzzle via a variety of perspectives: Rome, the head of E-Tech; Paula, a single mother who witnessed a Paratwa attack; Bishop Vokir of the Church of the Trust; and Gillian, an experienced Paratwa killer from the past who was revived in the book's present. The various revelations and twists had me at the edge of my seat, although there was a big one that I guessed several hundred pages in advance. I couldn't wait to see what the Paratwa were planning, why they were doing it all, and whether Rome, Gillian, and the rest of E-Tech would manage to learn key pieces of information in time.
Liege-Killer is fairly violent, although it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. Not all killings and massacres were on-page – of the more stomach-churning stuff, I can recall one massacre, a flashback in which a Paratwa essentially forced a group of humans to eat one of their friends for dessert, and Gillian and his team's discovery of Reemul's “plaything” (warning: no on-page rape scene, but Reemul is a pedophile and has particularly monstrous tastes). The action scenes were pretty good. Mostly, it was either Gillian or Reemul against opponents who were very outclassed. I kind of wish Gillian and Reemul had had more chances to face off against each other.
As much as I enjoyed this book, it wasn't perfect. I had to grit my teeth every time Jerem, Paula's 12-year-old son, appeared on-page. There are many things I could call that kid, but I will refrain so that this paragraph doesn't turn into a giant block of swearing. I tried to tell myself that he was only 12 and that I shouldn't hate him so much, but it was hard. I did a search, and it looks like some variation of “Jerem whined” occurred only a dozen or so times. It felt like more. Every time Paula tried to get him to shut up and obey so maybe they wouldn't be killed, he had to get just one more complaint in. At one point, he learned that his mother had lied to him about his father. He had been an abusive addict, and, after he died, Paula had wanted to protect Jerem from the truth. So, what did Jerem do after Paula told him all this? He sulked, accused Paula of abandoning his father, and said, “My father's dead. And it's because you're just a stupid bitch.” (178).
I don't think Jerem deserved the stuff that happened to him after that, but I wanted him to apologize for what he'd said and, you know, grow up. He never did either of those things and, in fact, continued to whine and sulk when he was finally reunited with his mom. The only moments with Jerem that I enjoyed were when Gillian was stuck in a hotel room with him and refused to take any of his crap and when Paula was getting the both of them packed up for their new life with the Costeaus and flat out ignored Jerem's whining.
Besides Jerem, there was one other thing I didn't like about this book, and that was its female characters. Hinz did badly by them. Not just one, but two women died so that Gillian could become the man he needed to be in order to battle the Paratwa. As far as I can remember, Rome's wife, Angela, was often in his thoughts but never had any on-page actions or dialogue. I suppose Nu-Lin was okay, but she didn't really do all that much.
Paula had the potential to be awesome. She was street-smart enough to know that the visitors to her antique gallery were bad news and needed to be guarded against, and capable enough to evade E-Tech's people and deal with Costeaus (pirates) without falling apart. I figured she'd meet Gillian and turn into a love-struck idiot. I was only slightly wrong. The guy she fell for turned out to be Aaron, the pirate with the scarlet penis tattooed on his face.
Hinz skipped all the scenes that might have made their relationship believable. Since there was no emotional build-up to indicate anything else was going on, I initially figured Paula had slept with Aaron so that he'd be more willing to help her find her son. Imagine my surprise when it turned out they were really in love. Paula went from hating Costeaus in one chapter to being in love with one the next time she appeared on-page, and, from the point on, she ceased doing anything other than being Jerem's mother and Aaron's lover. It was disappointing.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and was drawn in by the mysteries and suspense surrounding Reemul, the Paratwa plan, and the two Paratwa hunters from the past, Gillian and Nick. The world was fascinating, and I'm looking forward to reading Ash Ock. I just could have done without Jerem and wish Paula had finished at least as strong as she'd started.
For the most part, this book was error-free. I only counted three instances of what I think might have been OCR errors.
- Dorsai! (book) by Gordon R. Dickson - I've never read this, but it's science fiction and the Dorsai sound a bit like Paratwa in that they're feared warriors given to deadly rages.
- Cobra (book) by Timothy Zahn - I haven't read this, but it sounds like another one that might be good for those who liked the Paratwa. This has human-created warriors called Cobras, who have surgically implanted weapons.
- A Game of Thrones (book) by George R.R. Martin - This is epic fantasy, but it might work for those who'd like more fascinating political machinations, multiple POVs, and characters who are speeding towards their violent doom if they don't figure things out in time. I've written about this book.
- Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - This one is kind of a stretch. Loveless is less violent than Liege-Killer and has more of a psychological feel. However, it might work for those who'd like more paired fighters and emotionally messed up characters.