There are strengths and weaknesses in letting an author off their editor’s leash and letting them write the story they want to write in the way they want to write it. I don’t think you’d read a story like this from one of the big New York houses and that is one of the strengths. The story is told epistolary (or blog post) style, as entries in Cassandra’s diary. These bite-sized pieces give the book structure and keep the plot moving, which it needs from time to time.
This first book in the Touchstone trilogy starts with Cassandra just trying to survive an expected and unexplained transplant into an empty, abandoned world. Some readers may get a little impatient with this section. My advice to them is: stick with it. I enjoyed reading this whole series.
The story takes off in a new direction as she is discovered by a group of psychics, here on a survey mission of this, their abandoned home planet. Where the story goes from there is a long, fish-out-of-water story as Cassandra struggles to adapt to her new surroundings and to get treated as something other than a lab rat.
Her new home is a technologically advanced society and the worldbuilding is one of the best fascinating and horrifying elements of the story. The author adds a tremendous amount of detail to her worldbuilding. It feels very real, despite the implanted virtual reality networks, psychic powers and nanotechnology. All of the fantastic elements are anchored by Cassandra’s reaction to her situation. She always remains sympathetic and though she becomes the focus (or Touchstone) of her new home’s battle for survival, she never loses her sympathetic qualities. This is not a story about a superhero. This is the story about a girl.
There are some cultural bumps along the way. Australians are not Americans, though we’re close enough for the differences to stand out. I hesitate to generalize too much, so let me focus this specifically on Cassandra and her situation.
I had a hard time figuring out if the setting of Tare is a Fascist or Socialist utopia.
Cassandra is handled by people with good intentions but with little regard for her rights to her body, her privacy or anything else. Everything is very orderly, very neat and clean. But the implications of the society bothered me a lot. In fairness, they seem to bother Cassandra as well, though not to the point of confronting anyone or asserting herself.
Her relative powerlessness made it easy to sympathize with Cassandra but it also made her a fairly passive character in this book. I do like that she does make a positive decision to help of her own free will. But her treatment made me grind my teeth. To the good, it also makes some of the other characters grind their teeth as well, though again, not to the point of standing up for her.
There is some great action in this series, the psychic powers are very cool. But there is a lack of conflict, which is an odd dichotomy. Everyone gets along far too well. This is one area where there is a weakness in being able to ‘go her own way’ as a writer. A great editor might have helped interject more conflict. But, I am very impressed, on the whole, with the author and this series.