After Dark – Jayne Castle – Joyce Bean

What a mixed bag these books are. I came across free secondhand audiobook versions of them, so I figured why not. Although I had a vague association of the author with mediocre romance/PNR, I didn’t worry too much about it. Free, after all.

I enjoyed some things. I didn’t mind the characters (except when I did); in some ways the story was pretty well told; I have to say the setting is fairly thorough and deep and well drawn… in places. It’s an interesting idea, once exposition is provided. But it doesn’t altogether make sense, and information is doled out in dribs and drabs and piecemeal, and a few explanations don’t come until late in this first book or even the second. For example, it takes quite a while for the oddities in the story – a pet dust bunny with six legs? Ghosts which aren’t really ghosts? – to become clearer: aha. The books aren’t contemporary paranormal romance/urban fantasy, they’re futuristic (I assume) science fictional urban fantasy/PNR, taking place on another planet which has influenced the genetics of humanity to the point that everyone’s a little bit psychic.

The author relies heavily on cliché. If there’s a well-worn overused phrase to insert into a given situation, she uses it. Otherwise the writing is tolerable, so once I’d adjusted to rolling my eyes every now and then as she blows the dust off yet another hairy old saying, it was quite readable (listen-to-able). Except for the fact that characters have an obnoxious habit of asking questions that were answered about a minute ago … This is another example of an author who either doesn’t trust her own ability or doesn’t trust her readers’ reading comprehension skills, because it’s yet another example of a book in which an occurrence is described, and then a short time later one of the participants talks about it in detail to someone who wasn’t there – and then, on really special occasions, it all gets repeated a third time for some insufficient reason – no new information, no new take on the situation, just sheer grinding repetition. I don’t understand how such things get past professional editors.

And on the subject of aggravating repetition, if I hear the phrase “lost weekend” one more time there may be consequences. I began to wish I had a digital copy of the book so I could do a count on how often the term is (over)used. And while I’m picking nits, Jayne Castle is also one of those writers who far too often has her characters doing something for “a long moment”. It happens a lot, to a lot of writers, to the point that I noticed it when I was about eighteen years old and swore never, ever, ever to use “a long moment” in any form in anything I ever wrote. (Except book reviews.) It’s even dustier and more annoying than the rest of the clichés in here.

Regarding the narration: Joyce Bean did a perfectly adequate job … she didn’t become a favorite narrator, but she didn’t irritate me. However, I don’t really understand why Lydia’s coworker Melanie has a Southern accent. If this is another planet, colonized by Earth humans long enough ago that their psi abilities have been affected by the environment and they can look back centuries to this huge war of theirs, then … how does someone have an accent from the U.S. 21st century South? Oh – wait. Maybe it’s a very, very subtle reference to Doctor Who.

Speaking of that dust bunny, “Fuzz” (which I did a little while ago) … why do people like him? Because from what I’ve seen in other reviews and from the notes at the beginning of the second book, people do. It puzzles me; the thing has next to no personality. It’s something that literally looks like a dust bunny, yet is a predator, yet is content to hang out as a pet; something which spends 90% of the book begging for or eating pretzels (another word I’d like to do a count for – those damn pretzels get more coverage than some characters in the book) and the other ten percent opening its second set of eyes or doing something else to underline the fact that it’s not Terran. So … um … where is the entire rest of the animal kingdom of this planet? Does everything have four eyes and six legs? Do people have moronic names like “dust bunny” for everything? Is in fact “dust bunny” the official name for the things, or just a cutesy-ism? There is never to my knowledge a single reference to another native species except the extinct people who left behind the nifty tunnels and whatnot.

Really, I don’t quite understand why the author felt the need to place the book, or rather the series, so entirely elsewhere, when so little was done to create this new world. The thing with the “ghosts” was explored a bit, eventually, but otherwise, with a search/replace for all those “rezzes” or whatever it is, it might as well have taken place in Milwaukee.

It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read or listened to. But, though I also listened to the second book, for the Everest-esque reason that “it was there”, it doesn’t inspire me to ever read anything else by Castle.

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