|Epiphyte Book Review||up to review index|
by Denise Lopes Heald
The planet Ver Day is a frontier world covered with jungle. This isn't the Tarzan-movie sort of jungle where you can run around in nothing but a loincloth without losing your skin. The green is a hostile, insect- ridden wilderness full of ravening beasties, kudzu's foul-smelling but edible twin, face-sucking flowers, and bugs, bugs, bugs. Bugs the size of your fist that explode into stench, bugs with billions of legs that attach themselves to your skin when you're not looking, and bugs that crawl under your face netting and just generally make your life miserable. And the constant sweltering heat doesn't make life in the green any more pleasant. (But for the lack of Spanish moss and palmetto scrub, it's very reminiscent of North Florida in July.)
The jungle is so pervasive that the descendants of the original human settlers have actually turned green. Newbie immigrants, despised by the greenies for their destructive behavior and dependence on tech, are posing a serious threat to the preservation of the green. (I suspect that Usenet veterans are likely to appreciate a vocabulary in which the epithet "yellow-pissin' newbie" is the height of contempt.)
The most dangerous inhabitants of the green are the reclusive mistwalkers, which can fatally poison a human with the scratch of a claw. The human settlers learned quickly that irritating or startling a mistwalker is a very quick route to a very ugly death. So the settlers are careful not to cut down indigenous trees, or drop trash in the jungle, or use much in the way of non-biodegradable technology; and the mistwalkers leave the humans alone. Except for when they don't leave the humans alone.
Sal Banks is a greenie packer, a delivery person who hauls goods through the green in a hand-powered sled. She hires newbie Meesha Raschad to help her haul an unusually heavy load. The two of them have to cope not only with the usual lethal dangers of the green, but also with government corruption, spacer ambushes, greenie prejudice against newbies, and the mistwalkers' inexplicable fascination with Raschad.
This is not a book that will give you a warm fuzzy. This is a book that will give you the creepy-crawlies, and sudden fits of scratching at non- existent itches, and a newfound appreciation for clean beds without bedbugs. The story is good but unremarkable, although it does consistently improve throughout the book, and the romance is sweet without being saccharine. It fails to tie up quite a few dangling threads, but not in such a way that it screams "Sequel!"
It's the extroardinarily vivid picture that Heald paints--mostly in shades of green--of a dangerous jungle world and the ways in which humans have adapted to survive it that make Mistwalker absorbing and memorable.
As long as I'm saying nice things about a Del Rey Discovery, let me take a moment to praise the Discovery line in general. I've read about half of them now, and while they have a tendency to suffer from first-novel faults--I found Ammonite a bit preachy, for example, and Dancer of the Sixth tangled itself with improbable romantic complications at the expense of a more interesting plot--on the whole, they're interesting books with original ideas. And it's great to see some promotional effort being spent on new authors; I'd never have even noticed Mistwalker if it hadn't had that white "Discovery" banner emblazoned across the front cover.
-- Christina Schulman.
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