What do you get when you cross New Age mysticism, corporate intrigue, a weird wasting disease related to pollution, a psychic cure for it, a string of murders and the development of a man from an upstanding citizen to a gutter bum and back to an upstanding citizen again? I you're thinking it's Lizzie Ashworth's Denial then you're right. If you're thinking of something else let me know, because I'd probably like to read that too. This is the second book in the House of Rae series, following Salvation which I reviewed previously. I enjoyed the first one and I can't help but think that this one is even better precisely because it came afterward and she had more experience writing SF/F.
Ashworth's work has all of the themes listed above and it mixes them really well. She finds a way to switch between points of view and tie things together that, if you were to describe them to me verbally don't sound like they would fit together all that well. Don't ask me how she made it work. I'll just say she did. Ashworth has a sharp mind and makes her characters believable.
This book, like the one before it, has a point of view that can only be described as a limited first-person omniscient. This is something I hadn't seen until I read her first book but now that I have a bit more familiarity with it, having read the work of both Ashworth and Daniella Bova, I'm actually enjoying it. It can be a bit strange if you have to abandon a book mid chapter but she manages to identify her characters well enough that after a sentence or two you can figure out who you're reading. And wow, do those characters vary.
Back from the first book is our hero Josh, who is now back in school and working as a gray water technician. He is in love with a wonderful graduate student. Things go from good to bad to ugly quickly. Before long he's alone and homeless. This poor guy has been through so much and come through so often he seems to be unstoppable. Along the way though, he still manages to shag some tail because, well... He's Josh. Pumping chicks is what he does. And once again the sex helps him get through tough times in his life. He also has some psychic ability and this plays a much larger part in Denial than it did in Salvation.
The SF/F, probably more fantasy honestly, aspect in this book is much stronger than in the first one. It focuses around the healing ability of pleasure energy which is focused by the houses (in this case Houses of Rae, but there are other houses as well) and the fruits of their labors. The houses themselves are full of varying forms of entertainment, from the simple pleasures of a walk through a garden to booze, drugs or prostitution. If it feels good you can do it at a house. (The House of Rae specifically caters to an all female clientele but it is made clear that there are equivalent facilities for men. They just never appear "on screen.") The energy goes into a network and is distributed for use at healing facilities all over the world.
One of the main problems of the novel revolves on a specific house and its problem connecting to the grid that distributes the energy and this is where we get some of the New Age mysticism. A ceremony is conducted to travel into the Astral Plane and Feng Shui and acupuncture are both used in attempts to reconnect to the grid. I found myself enjoying this part of the book a lot. I'm not a New Age mystic by any stretch of the imagination but it was fun.
Ashworth has also toned way down on the sex this time around and I approve. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a prude but I don't usually read too many books with large amounts of sex because it's just not my thing. By no means is this book sex-free but the plot no longer centers around it and the book works better because of that fact. What sex is left in the book is plot necessary. For Ashworth growth, or some forms of it at least, is linked to sex. Her characters use sex to get past the rough parts of their lives and overcome their past. It's not a philosophy I subscribe to, but it's one that works for her.
The dark side of the corporate world is here for all to see. Ashworth's millionaires are self made men who cheated their way to the top. Denial is a good title as most of them have raked in millions while profiting off of dirty dealings and back room bargains. Fortunes are made and lost. One of the millionaires is a flat out despicable human being. Another regrets his past. All are seen as human beings, warts and all. A major part of the plot takes place when one of the millionaires has to defend his daughter against her asshole ex-husband. They all fight dirty. I approve.
I shouldn't have to write this, but I will anyway. Ashworth's treatment of some of the men in this book is exactly the type of thing that would set off the whiny types that complained about the latest Mad Max being a "feminist movie." Yes, one of them is a dirtbad on his best day. Yes, another can only seem to get himself together when he gets laid on a regular basis. Guess what, there are people like that in the real world. Yes, some of Ashworth's women are strong characters. If you can't deal with those things you may wish to avoid this book. I'm okay with it though. People have foibles and I don't see a realistic depiction to be a reason to cry into my beer.
My complaints about this book are fairly minimal. Ashworth's use of the multiple first person point of view works but sometimes she has time squeezing herself into the head of a man. Josh in particular actually describes a scene at one point as "I wept." An extremely effeminate man may describe himself as weeping, but Josh just isn't that kind of guy. I could see "I cried hard" maybe but weep? Sure, I've sat around and sobbed like a bitch at one point or another, but I have NEVER wept. Even if I have. But that's nitpicking. I find myself wondering at some points if the mosquito drones in her book would be able to carry enough liquid to cause the effect she ascribes to them but it is SF and I don't really have the technical details down enough to say it wouldn't work either. I'm thinking that the end of this one sets up the next one but I'm not sure if that's a good thing. It's not really a cliffhanger but it's not really NOT a cliffhanger. Also, conspicuous by her absence is Rae and this IS the House of Rae series. All in all though, there wasn't much to complain about and the good far outweighed the bad.
Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Mystic Crystals
Book two of the House of Rae series
Self Published, 2015
Denial can be purchased here: