Chilling Effect (Book Review)
by Valerie Valdes
Science Fiction (Space Opera)
5 / 5 Stars
I listened to this book on audiobook via Audible.
Chilling Effect is a light and exciting space opera with fun characters, interesting missions, and cool aliens; it’s a real treat! What is it about?
Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.
But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.
I really enjoyed this book! It’s a little scattered in terms of plotline, and the world-building, despite all the locations they visit, is a little light but this worked for me. As I read a lot of sci-fi and space opera, this novel was a break from the usual set-up. It takes a more episodic approach, with an already-formed crew and no “save the world” stakes, which, due to the length, made it feel like a show rather than a book.
The characters are a lot of fun, though the main character, Eva, really shines. She’s an interesting lead because while she is tough, resilient, and comfortable flying by the seat of her pants, she is also secretive, a bit selfish, and conflicted. Her main arc in the story is dealing with her self-fulfilling prophecy of becoming a swindler and liar like her father. Eva hates these characteristics in her father but when she finds herself involved in similar manipulations, she both tries to convince herself it’s for “good” reasons while subsequently regretting these choices later. She felt like a real person and I liked following her story. I also liked that she was my age and experienced at her job, not some rookie learning the ropes which we tend to get a lot in space opera. I also liked the diversity in the novel. Eva drops Spanish words and phrases throughout the text that the reader is left to infer the meaning of by context. True, I knew “come mierdas” meant “dumb-ass” or, more literally, “shit eater” from Spanish class, and I recognized other words too, but I didn’t mind not knowing the exact meaning of a lot of the text. It gave it authenticity. Eva is a little clueless at times when it comes to people’s emotions, but given it happens in multiple instances it felt like a character flaw (tied to her selfishness) than a bad attempt at interpersonal tension.
The other characters are a lot of fun too, though less complex. Vakar, an alien, reminded me a lot of Garrus Vakarian from Mass Effect, because he was as much of a dork and a sweetheart as he was a badass. He wasn’t a copy of him, of course, being much more of a follower, but I do like when love interests are nice guys and not alpha jerks. Pink, Min, and Leroy were likeable too. The action scenes are a lot of fun. They are described so well I could almost see them and while there are a lot of them, they didn’t get repetitive. The alien cultures and worlds could have used a bit more depth, but there were also so many of them it would have made for a lot of info-dumping. And because the story follows Eva, who isn’t the type to do any research whatsoever on this kind of thing, we only get what she knows. Again, it was kind of fun to just use my own imagination to fill in the gaps.
The book is also very funny. There are some absurd situations (the dinosaur mission!) and some funny one-liners that lightened the story and made me smile. The whole side-plot with Glorious was so silly but also covertly poignant. A lot of the novel is deeper than it seems.
This book is honestly such a breath of fresh air and so much fun. I cared about the characters and found excuses to listen to the audiobook. I’ve already started book two!
I recommend it to anyone who likes space opera, feisty female captains, fun alien cultures, and interesting action. It reminds me a little of The Fifth Element, Mass Effect, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Firefly.