Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gridlock by Nathalie Gray

TITLE: Gridlock
AUTHOR: Nathalie Gray
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Cyberpunk romance
COST: $3.50

In a world where machines are in charge, Steel does what she can to survive. On what should be her last job to earn the money she needs to escape for good, a dangerous ex gets in the way. She tries to fight her way out, but she’s outnumbered…at least until the man known only as The Cardinal shows up and promptly kills all but one of them. Steel tries to get away, too, but when she accidentally sees his face, he makes it clear that he doesn’t leave loose ends…

I love Nathalie Gray. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Which is exactly how I started my review of the last title I read by her, but since there aren’t that many authors who fall under this category, I’m letting my repetition slide.

This novella is another example of her gritty, action-paced style. Steel is a pierced, tattooed, fierce young woman, living on her own, watching her back, existing outside the Grid’s influence because she never got one of the implants that most humans now have. She’s trying to save enough money to escape the hellhole she grew up in, and this last job running drugs should be it. Then her psychotic ex Six shows up with his gang. He’s dangerous and unpredictable, and as soon as he spots her, she knows there’s going to be trouble. Though she tries to get away, getting in more than a few hard blows herself, she gets pinned and is on the brink of being raped when a stranger appears on the train. The men recognize him as the Cardinal, a lethal vigilante. The Cardinal proceeds to kill almost all of them, two without ever touching them. Steel tries to escape at the end, but when she inadvertently sees his face, he tells her he can’t leave a witness.

The ride explodes from there, vaulting the reader into one action scene after another, as Steel learns more about this enigmatic man. I could describe more of him, but that would spoil much of the surprise. This novella is too short for me to risk that. I will say that I loved the dichotomy he presents, the soft-spoken, courtly manners in contrast to the killing machine he really is, and that I was rooting for him even before we got into his perspective. Steel fares even better. She has Gray’s typical iron core, reacting in purely human ways without ever looking weak (I can't even begin to describe how much I loved her ultimate confrontation with Six), but through it is this thread of vulnerability that had me hoping for her happy ending as well.

The pace and writing are exemplary, fight scenes well choreographed, the editing clean. But hidden with the action are gems like this, "Her life was a garden of broken little moments." It's lyrical without sacrificing the story's style, and completely encapsulates Steel's character in less than ten words. It's something else to love about this author.

My sole complaint seems to be my typical one when it comes to Gray’s work. It’s too short. She’s so busy creating characters I love in worlds that fascinate me, the story is over just as it feels like it’s beginning. I want more, damn it. There aren’t enough authors out there who write these kind of down-and-dirty heroines or tougher-than-nails heroes in such action-tight sequences. When it comes to Gray, I’m just greedy.


9/10 – Combines relentless action with some fantastic turns of phrase


8/10 – An enigma in all the best ways


9/10 – Smart, determined, and still heartbreakingly vulnerable

Entertainment value

9/10 – Tense with a streak of innocence straight through the middle of all the nihilism

World building

8/10 – Crisp, sharp details that would’ve been perfect if we’d only had a novel to explore them all in



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