Shielder
by Catherine Spangler, futuristic (1999)
LoveSpell, $5.50, ISBN 0-505-52304-3


I was rummaging through my TBR pile for something to stop me from going mad out of boredom on an upcoming train journey the other day when I came across this book Shielder. I told myself, no more bluestockings and Earls, no more millionaires, no more virgins... well hello, futuristic romance.

Indeed, the deceptive Romance-at-Palm-Beach cover aside, this book fits my need for a different romance perfectly. The plot is quite gripping: a plague is spreading across a colony called the Shielders, and our outcast heroine volunteers to have the virus infected into her body so that she can travel to a distant Shielder colony so that a cure could be found.

She must make it there in around three weeks or the plague would kill her. Too bad, her spacecraft thingie goes glug-glug-glug and she ends up hitchiking with the very own enemy of her people - a bounty hunter under the pay of the Shielders' enemies. Oops.

Now, chapter one of Shielder has me crying. Really! I am really touched by the author's portrayal of heroine Nessa dan Ranul, and her volunteer/suicide mission is seen as a touching final gesture of a young woman who would do anything to be loved and accepted by her people.

But the story falls apart when the author fails to maintain the momentum she has started. Once Nessa and the Shadower hero Chase McKnight (what, no exotic name?) snuggle up in his spacecraft, things get boring and repetitious. Nessa starts to look really stupid. The plot hereon go something like this:

1. Nessa escapes.
2. Nessa finds some excuse to dally near Chase's place.
3. Nessa gets caught and is escorted back to the ship.
4. Nessa escapes.
5. Repeat cycle.

Ugh. Also, there's this irritating, sulky, bad-tempered Sabin fellow whose presence seems to serve no function than to drive Nessa into Irrationality Overdrive. I hear he's getting his own book next, and I hope he learns to smile by then.

And worst of all? Nessa is carrying a virus. Therefore, reading about she and Chase kissing, worse, boinking like space cyberbunnies left and right... the former medical researcher in me is aghast, no, shocked, at this hedonistic display of negligence to proper healthcare. Touch, transmission of body fluids, sharing same breathing space - and she has a virus outbreak in her body? I really cringe inside at the descriptions of engorged penetrations and pinnacles of love. Let's hope Chase doesn't get engorged in all the wrong places after quarantine time's over for the naughty viruses.

Despite the criminal call of free love over healthcare precautions and the too-soon-for-my-liking breakdown of momentum, Shielder remains a noteworthy read because the author's style never falters long after her characters had fallen into the one-note trap. She skilfully creates atmosphere and brings life to her fantasy creation. The Shielder vs Controller odyssey has me intrigued, and I find myself looking forward for more.

Hence, while Shielder may show the inevitable lack of polish of a debut work, it still manages to pack a punch. Let's hope - really hope - that Sabin gets a sense of humor in the next book.

Rating: 79


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