CHILLING EFFECT by Valerie Valdes

chilling-effect-by-valerie-valderEva-Benita Caridad Larsen y Coipel de Innocente — Eva, for short — captain of La Sirena Negra, is tired. She’s led a rough life, one riddled with tragedies and mistakes that she would soon like to forget. She’s doing a decent job at it, too, with having cut ties with most of her family and concentrating on growing her mostly legal shipping business. Helping her in this endeavor is a capable, crackpot crew that is beginning to feel like a sort of family. She’s even considering starting a new relationship. Eva Innocente’s past seems to be staying well behind her, where it belongs.⠀

Right up until it catches back up with her in the form of the shadowy, mob-like organization known as The Fridge, who Eva learns are holding her younger sister, Mari, captive. With the threat of harm coming to her sister lest she comply, the captain of La Sirena Negra is coerced into doing increasingly dangerous and bizarre tasks for the secretive faction, all while trying to keep her close-knit crew in the dark as to the origins of these odd jobs, a deceit that soon begins to unravel, bringing back all the tension and drama Eva has tried so hard to evade all these years.⠀

What you definitely won’t get from that synopsis though is just how funny and irreverent Chilling Effect, the debut novel from Valerie Valdes, actually is. The book starts out fun and light, a tone that, thanks to characters who are instantly compelling, it manages to keep even as the tension and melodrama ramps up like a proper telenovela. Like many science fiction romps, Chilling Effect deals with a diverse, ragtag group of people traveling the universe and getting into trouble — a classic, well-established trope present in many personal favorites such as Cowboy Bebop, Firefly, and most recently Becky Chambers’ excellent Wayfarers series, to which, at least in the beginning, my brain kept comparing this novel to — you might say this novel is the delightfully vulgar, foul-mouthed cousin.⠀

Which brings me to the dialogue, an area in which Valdes excels. Main character Eva’s rhetoric in particular was a stand-out for me, packed as it is with shrewd Spanglish witticisms that I couldn’t help but appreciate: there are particular phrases (and insults and profanities) that I have never come across in a work of fiction before. It made me feel seen in a way I did not expect. It was great.⠀

The first half of the novel is episodic in nature, which is another aspect of the plucky crew trope that I highly enjoy. Unfortunately though as the vignettes gradually connected with the overarching storyline, the picaresque plot began to feel repetitive and drawn out, and it made the last half of the book a bit of a slog to get through.⠀

Ultimately it was the characters and the clever, sharp writing that compelled me to finish the space opera telenovela, and I wouldn’t mind traveling the galaxy and getting into trouble with these bunch of misfits again.

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