I would start this review of "Tracer" with an exciting intro, but since the author, Rob Boffard, himself has provided one for me (see below), I don't really have to!
I hope everyone got that! There is absolutely nothing dull about this guy--trust me. He is smart, sharp, and honest.
"Tracer" is the story of Riley Hale, a young courier, one of a group, who runs around a decaying space station called "Outer Earth" which contains almost 1 million people. She delivers various items in exchange for food, drugs, and whatever she is able to barter for. Central to these couriers' survival is the agreement that they will never look inside the packages they are carrying. In this futuristic dystopia, Earth was long ago destroyed in a nuclear war and the remnants of humanity are struggling to survive in the space station despite food shortages, gang violence, crime, and an increasingly disengaged leadership.
As the story begins, Riley is taking a new order over to the gardens when she is assailed by the Lieren gang and relieved of her delivery. At first she thinks she is done for, but then the Lieren slink away once they discover what she has been carrying--an eyeball! Riley is shocked to see the eyeball, but she quickly repacks it and delivers it to the customer.
Thinking everything is fine, Riley returns to the hideout or "nest" where the rest of her team--the devil dancers--live off the grid. But "no" the delivery has triggered the final phase of an ongoing plot that the Human Extinction Movement has been masterminding to destroy the space station and thus what remains of the human race.
Can Riley and her fellow couriers known as the devil dancers overcome all the obstacles in their way and save the station?
As a major explosion rips through the food producing sector of the Space Station, and the villain Oren Darnell takes control of the Station and begins to shut it down in preparation for its complete destruction, we can only bite our nails in anticipation of what could be the end of all humanity.
If there is one word I'd use to describe this book, I'd say it's a romp, because as soon as you begin reading one event pulls you rapidly into another and then another at a breathtaking pace and it becomes impossible to put it down. It only took me two days to finish this book because I found the narrative so absorbing and the dilemmas kept me so on edge I couldn't bear to stop reading until I found out what was going to happen.
So let me tell you a little bit about Rob Boffard, the author of this book. Unfortunately, like many new authors, Rob Boffard essentially wants you to guess who he is because his "meet the author" page at the end of the book is two sentences long. The basic information you get is that he is from South Africa and moves from location to location, i.e from London, to Vancouver, and then to Johannesburg and back around again. As his day job, for the last ten years he has worked as a journalist for media outlets such as "The Guardian", "Wired", and other locations. He is around 33 years old, and is married.
But that is pretty much the bare bones information we have about Mr. Boffard; there is a bit more on his website, but don't hold your breath for it. Keeping the facts to yourself is kind of a Sci Fi, Fantasy author thing to do, as I've noticed. These kinds of authors just seem to hate including acknowledgement pages like everyone else has. There is no, "And I thank my next door neighbor, Doug, for making this book possible." None of that. Plus, Rob Boffard is too cool for that kind of chitter chatter anyway.
I would say overall that "Tracer" was a really exciting book to read and I enjoyed it incredibly. That said it is a first book and it does have upsides and downsides. I'll give you the downsides first.
To a certain extent Mr. Boffard doesn't work sufficiently hard enough developing motivation with his characters which means that they can come across as one dimensional and there isn't that layered feel you might have in a better written book. Also, I ended up writing down several questions I had about where the plot was going and how it ended up, that, with a more skilled author, I would not have had. These are the kinds of capabilities you learn with experience, not to leave holes and not to allow your readers to start going something on the level of "I thought you said...or...How can that be because two chapter ago you said..."
Of course, I'm quibbling here on a very high level, because this is really an extraordinary book.
When it comes to the upsides, I have to say this book has some of the most amazing fight scenes ever, to the point where I felt as though they were being choreographed by a master choreographer. Two thirds of the way through the book, there is a scene where Riley needs to make it through a door which is protected by several police officers in order to save the Station. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but what I will say is that this scene is one of the most masterfully written scenes I've ever had the pleasure to read in a Sci Fi/Fantasy book.
I give Rob Boffard credit for his fresh approach to these kinds of scenes and his capacity to maneuver his characters through very complicated moves almost effortlessly, or so it appears. It's that genius Mr. Boffard has in creating these breathtaking action scenes that makes you as the reader feel, "Oh my God, I just have to find out what is going to happen next!" There's knives, there's guns, there is extreme heat, there is extreme cold, there are people all over the ship running amok, our major characters are getting injured and pushed to the point of death--it's just one thing after another! In other words, it's just one heck of a darned good read and who cares about any minor flaws anyway!
So I don't have much more to say here except after "Tracer" there are two more additional delightful sequels which I look forward to reading since I purchased the omnibus book including them in a single package. So in due time, I will be reading them as well, i.e. "Zero-G" and "Impact."
Just for a few final details regarding this omnibus book, it has a very intriguing picture of the Space Station rotating in orbit around the dead planet Earth with the sun creeping up the horizon. I would say this dazzling art played a major role in catching my attention so I ended up purchasing the book. This cover art was produced by Das Illustrat Munchen.
Rob Boffard is represented by Literary Agent and Co-Owner Ed Wilson of Johnson & Alcock in London, England. Apparently, Ed Wilson is the kind of agent who prefers to represent authors who will have a long term appeal and won't fizzle out with the most recent trends. He is currently working hard at building his Sci-Fi list, and from what I hear, he is also open to thrillers, teen and YA. My impression of him is that he is a loyal agent who really stands by his clients, as well as an intelligent and imaginative reader.
My guess is that, as a writer, Rob Boffard is a craftsman and that we will continue to see him produce many more wonderful books in the future. Luckily, he appears to have a literary agent who can partner with him in getting that task done.