BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Agent Lila Black is on her first mission for the Otopian NSA. Her mission? To guard and investigate the lead singer of the The No Shows rock band, who happens to be an elf. However, she is far from normal herself, even in a changed world intersecting with elven, faery, and even demon worlds. Her assignment leads to a plot much more involved than she had ever imagined and takes her through her own internal struggle and growth.
PROS: A great blend of science fiction and fantasy! Imaginative characters, while based on previous fantasy archetypes – have their own unique aspects and personalities. Quickly pulls you in, and picks up speed from there.
CONS: The introduction, laying the basis of the book, could have been better.
BOTTOM LINE: Keeping It Real is anything but “keeping it real”. It transports the reader to a familiar world with an intriguing fantasy and sci-fi twist. Some good old fashioned espionage wrapped in futuristic technology and fantasy magic. If you are a fan of sci-fi or fantasy Keeping It Real has something for you!
The universe in which this story is based is a future Earth changed by an inexplicable event occurring at the Superconducting Super Collider. This event, referred throughout the story as the Quantum Bomb, essentially tied multiple realms to Earth. All these other realms seem to be based in magic while Earth, called Otopia after the quantum blast, is based in technology.
The actual story itself centers around Lila Black and Zal. Lila is an Agent for the Otopian National Security Agency, and she is unique in that she is a cyborg. She is “James Bond” to the extreme, with numerous weapons and gadgets built into her machine parts. She also has her fragile human side with a somewhat scarred psyche which causes her introspection throughout the book. Her assignment starts off to protect and investigate Zal, an elf rock star who is getting serious death threats. This eventually spirals into a much larger and encompassing tale of political intrigue involving Alfheim, the Elven realm. Zal and Lila are both outcasts in their worlds, but for different reasons. It seems that Lila is trying to come to grips with who she is and where her place is. While Zal, who seems to be comfortable with who he is, at a very high level seems to be an improbable evangelist. Not a theological evangelist, but more like an evangelist with an anti-xenophobe message of equality.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this book, I thought the characters were inventive and interesting. A story is all about the characters and I think Ms. Robson did a great job of connecting the reader to her characters. The universe that she has created or multi-verse (not sure which would be correct) is also very imaginative and I believe the melding of sci-fi and fantasy elements was extremely well done. Also, I have to say that I don’t think I have seen as varied a set of references in a book. Quite a few The Lord of the Rings references, but out of the blue comes a reference to Heart of Darkness (a HS English class favorite and the basis for Apocalypse Now), and then Toy Story. Talk about bouncing around the spectrum!
All the guns, grenades, mystical vortexes, motor cycle chases, and dragons are great. They move the story along and I for one really enjoy “action sequences”. Most of all they serve as a vehicle to move the characters along and grow them for the reader, and lay the ground work for some hopefully very interesting and exciting sequels.