Review: Keeping It Real by Justina Robson

Keeping It Real by Justina Robson
Keeping It Real by Justina Robson

Keeping It Real (Quantum Gravity Book 1)
Justina Robson
Pyr, 2007

In all honesty it was the back of August’s Chasing the Dragon that helped form my decision to read Keeping It Real.  I remember when the series first hit and thinking that it sounded cool but I somehow managed to never pick it up.  Set in a world where a “Quantum Bomb” has opened up the gateways between  the dimensions that are home to humans, elves, demons, faeries, and elementals Agent Lila Black is almost more machine then human.  Her body rebuilt after a botched diplomatic mission Lila first assignment is to protect popular elven rock star Zal.   What might have been a simple bodyguard mission turns into something more when Zal becomes the target of mysterious and powerful figures.  While it didn’t blow me away I found Keeping It Real to be an exciting ride set in an original world.

I should point out the I hate elves.  I blame Dragonlance for that.  Weiss and Hickman’s version of arrogant and superior elves have forever tainted my view of every elf I’ve encountered in fiction since.  So needless to say that I approached a book with an elf as a central character, and (ugh) the romantic interest of the main character with no small amount of trepidation.  Thankfully Zal’s differences from your run-of-the-mill elves is something of a major plot point and in many ways a vehicle for Robson to attempt to break free from stereotypical haughty, elitist, and socially rigid elves that are so prevalent in fantasy fiction.  While Robson still plays with those same stereotypes in a number of other characters she manages to pepper he elves with some fascinating bits of originality that help keep them from being stale.  I found Robson’s vision of elven magic particularly interesting as they have what amounts to two perceivable bodies: their physical one and their magic andalune, or magical body.  It is a fun concept and helps Robson explain the typical connection between elf and land.

Of course Keeping It Real is about introducing readers to our cyborg heroine Lila Black.  She is a character that absolutely oozes cool.  Integrated with an AI system, bristling with weapons hidden amongst her various metal appendages, powered by a nuclear fusion reactor, and with attachable heavy armor Lila is, as she herself comments, something like the latest action figure on the market.  Unfortunately I never felt we really get Lila at 100% through most of the novel.  Her body as new and disturbing to her and she is weighed down by the emotional baggage accrued not only by her perceived loss of humanity but also by the stress and trauma caused by the failed mission that led to her creation.  This is compounded by the fact that same failed mission involved elves, thus tainting her mission protecting Zal, and the fact that she is ensnared in a mystical Game with Zal; an artifice of wild magic that forces both participants to play for unknown stakes and where losing has unknown, but tangible, cost.  Of course this effects not only her performance in protecting Zal but also obscures, for the reader, her personality to a certain degree.  Lila doesn’t really know who she is; and as a result neither do we.  I was also slightly troubled by Lila’s inevitable confrontation with one of the individuals responsible for her earlier failed mission; the person directly responsible for her becoming a cyborg.  The resolution of that confrontation felt a bit too neat and left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth; both reactions with blunted important climactic events later in the novel.

Regardless I still enjoyed reading about Lila and both Robson and Lila really shine in the big action scenes when both writer and character got a chance to really cut loose.  From the early nighttime chase through Zal’s home, the forest glade confrontation with elves, ghosts, and elementals, to the big motorcycle chase Robson writes a mean, visually dynamic, action scene.  Even something as simple as Lila revealing all the hidden weaponry and gadgets hidden in her body all at the same was a scene easy to visualize.   I also love the sort of hodge-podge world that the quantum bomb created and Robson has used the tearing of the dimensional barriers to craft a wonderful anything-goes atmosphere that is just tons of fun.

While the novels climax is as exciting and thrilling as any of the novel’s other action scenes I found the denoumont that followed more than a little disappointing.  On the one hand it wraps up the novel’s plot quite nicely while still leaving opening a number questions from earlier in the story; but none so pressing that I felt driven to press on.  Oddly, enough I found that lack of a meaty hook to drive to the next novel a bit disappointing.  The novel moves quick and Lila’s identity crisis is never quite resolved and thus I never really felt I got a handle on who she was.  While I probably shouldn’t expect a cybernetic identity crisis to be resolved in 345 pages, especially when there is quite a bit that actually happens in the novel, the fact that fact that it wasn’t left me more then a little unsatisfied.

Regardless, I do plan on continuing with the series.  While I was slightly spoiled on what is to come after reading the blurb for Chasing the Dragon (I would recommend skipping the back of that book if you want to remain surprised at what is to come) I am excited to see how we get there.  If you’re looking for high octane action featuring a badass, if emotionally troubled, female lead then I think the Keeping It Real, and the Quantum Gravity series, might be exactly what you’re looking for.  And, if you’re still uncertain, checkout the sample material over on the Pyr sample blog.

One thought on “Review: Keeping It Real by Justina Robson

  1. Pingback: Steampunk September « King of the Nerds!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s