The Confluence series is quickly becoming one of my favorites due to its world-building, strong characters (without being one-dimensional) and relationships. I particularly like that Jane Holloway and her crew are strong and willing to do what must be done without tons of aggression ala Star Trek.
Jennifer Foehner Wells‘ series began with Fluency (reviewed here) in which a team of astronauts investigate an alien ship only to find out that it’s abandoned except for its navigator who looks startlingly like an octopus or Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. They get caught up in saving the ship and themselves. In Remanence, they set “…off to return that ship’s marooned navigator to his home world, determined to discover who was behind the genocide that destroyed his original crew.” [from Amazon’s plot summary].
[Note: read Fluency prior to reading this review, it have Fluency spoilers, and Remanence]
Let me address the world-building of this series first. While interesting and novel, it’s not so much the species, planets or technology that make it so intriguing but the perspective. Ms. Wells focus is on the culture of the worlds rather than the mechanics. While this is true of other ScitFi novels, this is an area where the protagonist’s focus on communication accentuates the cultural aspect of these worlds and people. If that sounds boring to you, it’s not. I want to emphasize that all of this is brought out through the narrative, dialog and interaction. Little “straight” exposition is used.
Not only is it a brilliant move to make Jane Holloway a linguist from a world building perspective, it also deemphasizes a military focus. For all of that, Jane Holloway is strong. If we look more closely at Jane Holloway’s strength of character and leadership in the midst of normal and extreme tension, we see an “ordinary” hero. So often we’re tempted to feel obligated to overdo a character to rid ourselves of stereotypes. Hence, the literarily butt-kicking women who fight among the best as well as are brilliant and emotionally adjusted. There is a place for that, but I like Ms. Wells’ protagonist who is strong but not “action-hero” strong. She is able to withstand pain, adjudicates amongst different species and navigates multiple challenging relationships, romantic and otherwise, while still commanding her ship during tense moments while feeling the weight of responsibility. In this day of seemingly daily acts of violence, it’s refreshing to see strength portrayed without aggression.
I seriously liked Fluency; I love Remanence. It is a nearly perfectly executed sequel: it provides a deeper dive into all characters and relationships. There is a consistently smooth progression of the storyline with no major jerks or cheats but still plenty of surprises. We also come to a deeper understanding of the world Wells creates with new aspects and people groups brought int but always in a consistent way that drives the story.
The characters of the book are multi-dimensional and grow (or we grow to know them more) in Remanence. Their relationships are well done, especially the relationships between the humans and aliens. These characters and the circumstances in which they find themselves have the mark of authenticity. Her aliens feel starkly “other” but accessible. Most of the events are ones with which we can identify but on a more low-key level (except for the great by an extraordinary ending.
Ms. Wells tackles issues of freedom and responsibility, appropriate use of violence and culture/species bias. She incorporates these as part of the story and, following great SciFi tradition, tackles these social issues head-on without being preachy or “making a point.” This is primarily a story and the narrative rules the day but one that addresses important and interesting nevertheless.
In sum, Ms. Wells has a clear, consistent vision of her series’ world. Her characters and relationships amongst the crew and the alien species are complex and interesting, made even more so when worked through the lens of a linguist’s understanding of complex communications that goes beyond mere language. She portrays strength without an emphasis on firepower and builds the narrative well. One of the other things I like about Ms. Well writing is that she knows how to end a story in a series well. There is a well-hewn balance between completing the current novel and alluding to the next. Clearly, I highly recommend Remanence and will take up the next in the series as soon as it is available.