A Policy of Lies by Astrid Amara – review

Rating: 5.5/10 ★★★★★½☆☆☆☆ Title: A Policy of Lies
Author: Astrid Amara
Genre: Futuristic Urban Fantasy Suspense
URL: Loose ID
Price: US$ 5.99
Other Information/warnings: graphic m/m, violence, mention of torture and mutilation
Summary [from the publisher]:
Twenty years ago, Levi Kaszeri survived a brutal rebellion on the mining colony of Tarus 9. Now as an aspiring reporter, Levi has a mission: to expose the massacre to the public, and bring the men responsible to justice.
But after a violent attack, he is rescued — then seduced — by Tiergan Seoras, a young doctor with a dangerous past and a slave tattoo.
Soon Levi finds all of his investigations leading him back to Tiergan. And he begins to fear that the best lover he’s ever had may also be his worst enemy.

My review: [warning – contains spoilers] I wanted to like this novel so much more than I did. The author is making a splash for herself after her debut in the recent Tangle XY anthology, followed by two novels and a novella. However, though I found her entries in the Tangle anthology charming, Intimate Traitors was very much not to my taste. I had higher hopes of A Policy of Lies. The story sounded intriguing, and the excerpt on the Loose ID site promising.

Unfortunately, I came very close to not finishing this one at all, and though there were good things in it, my overall irritation with style and content left a lingering dissatisfaction that refuses to dissipate.

The biggest irritation was Amara’s habit of repeating the characters’ names over and over and over and over…. If there’s one person in the scene, and a single narrator, we really do not need their name repeated at the start of every bloody sentence, truly we don’t. It’s not so annoying when there are two same-sex characters – we need to know who is which there – but when Levi is on his own and it’s ‘Levi did this, Levi thought that’, I wanted to snap the laptop shut in disgust and leave this one alone. It was a quite unncessary distraction . I think the editors at Loose ID need to crack the whip a bit more and tighten up the prose they’re sending out. This one was not as bad as some, but there were unnecessary speech tags, slightly flaccid, padded writing and ‘Levi watched such and such happen’ type constructions all over. In a story with so much taut action, it slows it all down.

I didn’t like Levi. He’s a reporter who in technical terms is TSTL – Too Stupid To Live. Really. Someone ought to tell this boy loose lips sinks ships because he’s about as discreet as Perez Hilton. He tells too many people too damn much, is too trusting, and makes very basic failures to protect sources and irreplaceable data. I kept groaning at his idiocy, which had the predictable results. He also spends too much time thinking with the head in his trousers – okay, Loose ID like their erotic scenes, and at least in this one, they felt less jammed in than in Intimate Traitors, but Levi doesn’t seem to understand the concept of the right place and the right time. He’s a bit of a brainless slut, to be blunt, and I never took to him at all.

So far as world building goes, there was a hell of a lot to like. The concept of the story was clever, and the MacGuffin about the insurance policies and the enforcement, equally inspired. The futuristic touches worked really well…which is why when the story intruded present-day, twenty-first century reality into it, as it did constantly, I kept going ‘huh’. Imagine watching Star Trek and someone mentions watching The Simpsons. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. This is a society so far in the future and so advanced, even death is optional, but the worst sadistic doctor that anyone can think of is Josef Mengele? Come on – are you really going to tell us that in however many centuries in the future, on a planet far far away, no more recent example would come to mind? The guys wear t-shirts, and listen to rock music, and the whole thing reads as if the budget ran out for costuming and set. The devil is in the details, and Ms Amara gets those badly wrong.

And the ending is a crock, almost as much of a cheat as ‘I woke up and found it was all a dream’. After having spent nearly 200 pages torturing the hell out of Tiergan, and dropping him in the shit again because his lover is an idiot, we’re supposed to believe the story will all be wrapped up that easily. If nothing else, Tiergan should punch Levi out for what he did and where he lands him.

Tiergan is too passive, though. He’s a symbol, a plot device, and we don’t really get to know him. Bad things have happened to him, he’s afraid yadda yadda but we never understand how he ticks. He’s generic woobie, despite all his cool cyborg attachments. The chemistry between him and Levi is purely sexual, and doesn’t really explain the undying romance between them. The other characters, perhaps with the exception of the dour Kera, are also stereotypes. Not exactly dull, but not exactly memorable either. If Levi had been more sensible, if the scene setting less inconsistent, they would have been adequate for the task of propelling the story. As it was, its like a gourmet meal gone awry. Not inedible, and it won’t leave you feeling hungry but you’re not going to praise the chef for her brilliance.

The pacing is fine, and the plot, aside from the stupidity, intriguing, though I picked the villain as soon as they appeared. Suppressing my irritation with the name thing, I got through it okay, and it kept my interest until the end. The smut did nothing for me because I felt the plot didn’t need it, or as much of it, but if that floats your boat, it’s not badly written from that aspect. The suspense is fairly well sustained, and if you want your HEA, you won’t be disappointed. I simply feel this author is capable of more, but hasn’t refound her footing after her debut. Whether she needs a firmer editor, or more work on her basic technique, I can’t say. The brilliance is there, the talent is there, but this novel is only moderately entertaining. If you can get past the things that irritated me, you won’t feel cheated of your money, but I can’t call it a classic.