044 – Solid by Shelley Workinger

Eighteen years ago, a rogue Army doctor secretly experimented with a chromosomal drug on unknowing pregnant women. When he was killed not long after the children were born, any knowledge and evidence seemed to die with him – except the living, breathing, human products of his work.

Almost two decades later, the newly self-proclaimed “open-book” military unearths the truth about the experiment, bringing Clio Kaid and the other affected teens to a state-of-the-art, isolated campus where they soon discover that C9x did indeed alter their chromosomes – its mutations presenting as super-human abilities. The military kids, who come from across the nation and all walks of life, come into their own as lighter-than-air ‘athletes’; ‘indies’ as solid as stone walls; teens who can make themselves invisible and others who can blind with their brilliance.

While exploring her own special ability, forging new friendships and embarking on first love, Clio also stumbles onto information indicating that the military may not have been entirely forthcoming with them and that all may not be as it seems…
I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when I initially picked up Solid. Not because it didn’t seem like an interesting book, but because it also came with a disclaimer from the author: “the focus of book one is establishing relationships more than abilites.” It didn’t strike me as a good sign that the book was being defended before I’d even read it, but in retrospect, I can definitely understand why.

Solid isn’t a badly-written book, style-wise. It surprised me greatly by lacking a lot of the grammatical and technical errors, plus the awkward phrasing and stilted dialog that you tend to expect from self-published titles. The characters are believably written, if somewhat one-note, and stylistically the only real issue I had was Workinger’s tendency to add redundant summaries to the ends of some of her dialog. Like so:

“It does take some serious fuel to maintain this formidable physique,” he agreed, reminding me not to underestimate the gastric needs of the teenage boy.
Why yes, he did just remind you not to underestimate the gastric needs of a teenage boy. We caught that when he said it, no need to summarize it for us. But Workinger does a lot throughout the book, enough so that I began to notice it every time it popped up. Our heroine informs us that she self-lectures and narrates her self-narrations, and Workinger generally over-explains like she’s afraid we won’t understand what she’s trying to get across. It’s not the worst of flaws, but it can get a little distracting.

Plotwise, however, Solid is thin. Very thin. You see that summary up there? That’s about the extent of it the book. Kids come to military camp, learn they have powers, discover things might not be exactly as the seem…and then solve about twenty mysteries – some of which they didn’t even know existed – when a chatty villain just strolls out of the forest towards the end of the book and starts explaining. Because…our page count ran out?

Maybe it’ll become clear if I read Settling, but I honestly don’t understand why Solid ended where – and the way – it did. The plot is really almost an afterthought – I mean, the only reason we even had any conflict at all was because halfway through the book, our heroine conveniently overheard a suspicious conversation between the bad guys that was somehow loud enough to hear clearly, but not to give away even the sex of the participants. Not sure how that happens. At any rate, it certainly wasn’t woven into the story.

It felt like half a novel to me – the introductory half, with a conflict, plot “twist”, and confrontation tacked on so that it could be released as a complete one. But why? If Settling is more about the overarching plot and ability development, why not make them one novel? Solid‘s ending is its biggest problem – for the sake of quantifying the impact somewhat, I’d say it cost Solid at least a star, probably more if there had been some sort of attempt to create a more complicated, interesting plot. The solid – pardon the pun – writing foundation is there, but critical elements like a sense of creativity and passion are missing.

The premise is basic – genetically engineered children are something(s?) we’ve seen before, and Workinger has done nothing very new with them here. The powers are nothing terribly unique, as far as we know, and I still have yet to find a practical application for sparkling, whether it’s done by vampires of fluffy blond Texans. It has to be one of the lamest powers ever.

Even the military base is standard sci-fi stuff, with fingerprint readers and exam stalls with random doorways between them for doctors who can’t be bothered with halls, and automated stadium-like gyms with floors that can light to look like any field you’re looking for, and special deploy-able shields that prevent runaway sports equipment from breaking the gym’s impractical glass walls. Okay, I guess that was a little creative, if pointless, but all I could think of when I read it was “Well, there’s the reason we’re in an energy crisis.”

I was also bothered by the sort of…monotonous emotional tone to the book. Our heroine, Clio, takes the whole “genetic experiment” revelation pretty much in stride. Granted, we come in after she’s known about it for a few weeks, but she shows about the same level of concern about where she’s going to sit at lunch as she does for what effect said genetic experimentation might have on her body, and if she was any more alarmed while being held at gunpoint during the climax, I didn’t feel it. There’s no sense of excitement or thrill or fear or anxiety about almost anything.

In fact, the only time we get an actual freak-out out of our heroine is when she – and I shit you not – doesn’t get the opportunity to kiss Jack while they slow dance at the Not-Prom. I’m not kidding, she absolutely loses her shit, literally running out of the not-gym and back to her room without speaking to anyone, and then she sulks and avoids everyone for two days, for absolutely no reason. It’s not like Jack even actively rejected her, they just didn’t kiss before the dance ended. THE TRAGEDY. On a comparative scale, this freaked her out slightly more than finding out she’d been stalked her whole life. Someone over- or under-reacted there somewhere, I think.

And no, there’s almost no ability experimentation, or even a prevalent desire to, and that in particular strikes me as incredibly odd, because if I were told that I been designed to have a genetic abnormality that could possibly give me superpowers, well…

Yeah, it’d be something like that.

Wouldn’t it for everyone? Yet even after these characters are absolutely sure that they have powers, we never get to see them experimenting. They mention having done so in passing, but we never see it. Hell, we barely even get to see them use them.

Yes, I am critiquing a book for being something that author specifically told me it wasn’t, but therein lies the issue: your book doesn’t have to be one or the other. Relationship establishment and a captivating plot aren’t mutually exclusive – I think most every other book can handle both of those things at the same time. Nor are relationship establishment and character development in the form of ability exploration, and really, isn’t that the best part of superpower novels?

But okay, if we’re not going to out-world-develop or out-story people, then these need to be damn interesting characters and relationships if they’re going to carry an entire book solo. So are they? Ehhhh…

The characters aren’t terrible, let’s get that straight. Everyone was generally likable, and the personalities were nicely varied and authentically teen without being painfully stupid or slang-ridden…most of the time. But as I mentioned earlier, the characters were very one-note. Bliss is the sweet, stupid one, Miranda is the bitchy know-it-all, Garret is the goofy jock…and that’s about it. Garret gets a brief scene where he shows some dimension, but it’s fleeting.

The same goes for our heroine Clio. She is, as she is kind enough to inform us several times, the defensive sarcastic one, and this isn’t a huge stretch. Her quips aren’t that funny, but they’re not cringe-inducing either, and she’s likable enough except for a brief moment in the beginning where she decides that she’s not willing to be friends with Miranda if she is – gasp – the kind of girl who has sex with the boys! Way to preemptively slut-shame there, Clio, very classy.

But she’s not terribly interesting, either, nor does she seem to be the ~speshul snowflake~, and while I’m usually grateful for the avoidance of that trope, here it’s like…well, why are we reading about her? As a character, she’s kind of boring.

We know almost nothing about Jack by the end of the book – intentionally, I suspect; he has that ~speshul~, plot-relevant smell to him – and he’s the bloody love interest! His interaction with Clio is minimal – they have maybe three scenes alone together throughout the entire book, and only one features any relevant conversation. I’m sorry, but just knowing she thinks he’s dreamy isn’t enough to get me to invest in the relationship. Is Jack nice? Sure, why not. Do I know why Clio likes him over every other boy she’s seen in school or met before in her life? Absolutely not. As far as I’m concerned, she has more interesting chemistry with Garrot, but the book has made it clear that he’s reserved for Bliss, so I doubt we’ll be going there. Right now, do I care if Jack and Clio get together in the end? No, not at all.

The relationship between Bliss and Clio is better, but just as reliant on the heroine’s assessment of it. After two days and maybe two scenes together, Clio announces they are BFFs and they’re sharing clothes and buying each other lattes and showing up in each other’s rooms uninvited, and Miranda is relegated to the position of unwanted third wheel. They have more scenes together following that than Clio and Jack, but there wasn’t a whole lot of time put into building their bond before they become insta-buddies. It just works a little better because Bliss is generally a more likeable character than Jack.

So no, the characters and relationships are nothing to write home about, either. This feels very much like a prequel, or again, the introduction to the book proper. Why its its own novel I don’t really get – and speaking of which, let’s talk about that terrible ending again, shall we?

Top 5 Reasons Why Solid‘s Climax Didn’t Work for Me

1. Deus ex Conflict – It came out of nowhere. Following our heroes’ discovery that the leader of the program, Col. Clark, had been stalking Clio all her life, they decide to confront him and find out what’s really going on on this campus. Abrupt, maybe, but okay. They corner him and…just ask, and he spills the beans on the whole experiment backstory, revealing several “twists” that we had no idea existed two paragraphs ago, while failing to actually answer any of their relevant questions. And then the bad guy walks out of the forest and begins monologue-ing, presumably because they’ve “gotten too close”.

2. The monologue-ing – yes, I realize your sudden appearance has created many plot holes and sketchy motivations. No, I don’t want to read three pages of illogical Bond-esque chatting while you supposedly fill them.

3. Deus ex Alexis – glad you just happened to overhear our heroes’ conversation in the 25th hour, and that you just happen to have all the right skills needed to call in the cavalry, and that somehow you knew who and when to call for help even though you weren’t there for any of it. Glad you’re apparently part of the group now.

4. The villain – it’s obvious from the first time you meet her. It’s always the helpful ones, and wow, love how she just 180’d into batshit crazy when the plot required it. It’s a good thing the main character never got around to forming a relationship with you, or your betrayal might actually mean something!

5. Deus ex Sidekick – why hello there random character I’ve never met but who apparently has been on the bad guy’s side since day one. No, I don’t want to hear you fill a plothole with crap about how you were recruited at orientation, because neither that nor my hearing about you once will not make your appearance any less random.

Bonus: the inaction – it’s just one normal person with a gun against five superheroes, and you guys need a deus ex machina to save you? What the Hell, man? You guys suck, like terribly, at this getting out of trouble thing.

All that being said, Solid wasn’t a bad book. It was a quick, easy read, and while the ending had serious issues, I suspect Settling might manage to take the interesting core premise of the series and do something worthwhile with it. Solid feels like a starter book, like one of those three-dollar prequels you get after the first book comes out, so you can read about the characters’ first adventure. Unfortunately, I don’t think it quite stands up on it’s own, and for that, I have to say:

two stars

Thanks to the author, Shelley Workinger, for giving us a review copy.


4 Responses

  1. LupLun

    July 26, 2011 5:57 pm, Reply

    So basically, it’s suppossed to be more about character than powers, but the character isn’t so good either? Maybe next time nix the disclaimer and rewrite instead? ^_^

    Seriously, the fact that you include a disclaimer indicates that there’s a problem and that you know it. If that’s the case, than don’t add a disclaimer, fix the problem.

    I know what you’re talking about re: Prologue books. I’m reading one that feels like it right now. Feels like a waste of time.

    Lupines and Lunatics

  2. Kayla + Cyna

    July 27, 2011 5:46 am, Reply

    I suspect the disclaimer was probably something that got added after a few reviews…who knows, though. It’s not bad though, it’s just…incomplete.

    So many intro books feel like extended prologues these days! I’m going to file away the Deus ex Conflict term away, because that happens a lot, too.

  3. Vicki

    May 9, 2012 2:22 am, Reply

    If you ever do get a copy of Settling to review, I can’t wait to see what you have to say. Two words: ~speshul snowflake~ ^_^

    Also, LOVE the new blog look!

    • Kayla + Cyna

      May 9, 2012 4:11 pm, Reply

      I’ve been considering it, because I was genuinely curious about where it was going, but Hell, so many books on the internet and library these days for free, it’s hard to justify purchasing one I’m not sure will be awesome. I save my money for <3 authors. But I may get around to it eventually!

      Also, oh God x.x Jack or Clio?


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