Netherwood
by Michele Lang, futuristic (2008)
Shomi, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52759-2


A part of me really, really, really wishes that I can give Netherwood a better review because I love the concept and the setting of this story. It is easily one of the most interesting paranormal romances I've read. However, I am also very disappointed by the heroine. In fact, I cannot stand her at all by the last few chapters of the story. Because I can't stand the heroine and the story is told entirely from her point of view, I have a hard time warming up to the story.

Set in the future - the story is vague about specific dates, so the best I can say is that it takes place after the 22nd century - people are now colonizing other planets out there. Because of the widespread distribution of humans across the galaxy, a centralized method of communication and information distribution is created. Called the "grid", this is like the Galaxy Wide Web rather than the World Wide Web. The grid is owned and maintained by FortuneCorp.

People of that time also enjoy playing an advanced version of a massive multiplayer online role-playing game thing where they create avatars and enter a three-dimensional virtual world where they can play all kinds of roles and reenact all kinds of fantasies. Some find their virtual lives so much more appealing than life in Real that they spend as much time in there as possible. Oh, and rich people who can afford it can "cheat death" by having their consciousness downloaded into a chip and integrated into the grid so that they can continue existing in the grid even if they have died in the Real.

Netherwood is the "bad district" of the Grid, where people go to live out the virtual life on the fast lane by playing criminals, daredevils, and such.

Our heroine, Talia Fortune, has been appointed the new sheriff of Fresh Havens, a wild planet populated only by a small colony of FortuneCorp employees. Full of heavily forested unchartered territories, Fresh Havens is plagued by continuous sabotage on the mining activities. Upon her arrival, Talia learns that there are two missing employees who have managed to flee into the forests and avoid being detected by the grid. One of them, Kovner, is the man responsible for the sabotage. Talia is sure of that. However, she has pursued Kovner both in Real and through Netherwood long enough that she is way too attracted to him for her own good.

Netherwood is a very busy conceptual story but Ms Lang nonetheless does an excellent job in putting everything together. The setting is easily the best thing about this story. I love the world-building and I also feel that it will be a pity if there will be no future books set in this setting after all that work that went into the world-building.

However, Talia drives me crazy. She's not competent in this story, what with her impressive ability to get disarmed or overpowered by other people. She is also very emotional that I have a hard time imagining why anyone would even begin to believe that this woman is qualified to be a sheriff in the first place. Talia treats the whole story like an exercise in first class top grade emo whining. If Talia is more capable in this story, I may warm up to her better, but she is frankly terrible in her job. She is, however, very good at crying or telling me that she intends to become a martyr for the cause, though. Late in the story, when Talia dramatically says that she will die for the cause, I can believe that, but only because she's incompetent enough to make good that promise. Of course, even then she doesn't have the decency to die like she says she would, so she's utterly and completely useless at the end of the day.

It is hard for me to define Kovner as a character because he alternates between being an annoyingly preachy character somewhat like Morpheus from those The Matrix movies and a dangerous boyfriend archetype, limited as he is when it comes to character development by the first person narration in this story. But still, he doesn't annoy me as much as Talia so he's alright by default.

I wish the author has made Talia more confident and less emotional because by the time Talia realizes that not everything is as it seems and has to choose between what FortuneCorp stands for and what Kovner stands for, I've already decided that she's an incompetent flaky twit easily swayed by charismatic demagogues so there is no suspense as to which side she will end up going along with. Instead of being this competent sheriff who can take two steps without stumbling or making the whole thing all about her issues, she's a poster girl for the insufferably whiny "All we need is lo-ooo-ove!" emo git movement. Making everything about her is the only one thing I see her doing here with anything resembling competency.

So there you have it. I find the setting of Netherwood the best thing about it. But the heroine is just plain annoying here and since she's the narrator, there is no escaping her at all. The story gets on my nerves but still, I like the setting so much that a part of me wishes that I was there, if only to take in the view if not to stuff a sock into Talia's mouth.

Rating: 73


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