Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes
Publication date: 13 February 2020
Genre: Science fiction
Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler-free review.
I’ll be honest, as soon as I heard ‘psychic cats’ I was all in on Chilling Effect. I love space opera, I love off-beat heroes, and I love cats. While banter-y ‘squad’ sci-fi books don’t tend to work for me (see my burning hatred of Aurora Rising), but there was something about Chilling Effect that just worked. While it wasn’t perfect, it was so much damn fun.
A hilarious, offbeat debut space opera that skewers everything from pop culture to video games and features an irresistible foul-mouthed captain and her motley crew, strange life forms, exciting twists, and a galaxy full of fun and adventure.
Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.
But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.
To free her sister, Eva will risk everything: her crew, her ship, and the life she’s built on the ashes of her past misdeeds. But when the dominoes start to fall and she finds the real threat is greater than she imagined, she must decide whether to play it cool or burn it all down.
Chilling Effect is a plot-driven book filled with pop culture references (I spotted Star Wars, Deep Space Nine, and Portal, among others) and loads of fun, snappy dialogue. It moves at breakneck speed and kept me turning the pages well past my bedtime. There is a lot of plot packed into this book — I feel like it actually could have been teased out and made into two books with more in-depth characterisation (see below). However, this does mean that I tore through Chilling Effect quickly and I definitely enjoyed the ride.
For me, a lot of the weaknesses of the book come from the characters. While I really liked Eva, she was the only POV character and therefore was the only one that felt fleshed-out. She is not your classic hero — she’s stubborn, foul mouthed, violent, and a bit mad. However, I really understood her, her absolutely frantic thought process, and the reasons she made certain decisions — she’s such an incredibly fun character and I enjoyed her immensely. However, the other characters did fall a little flat for me. I’d love to have seen some of the story through Vaskar, Min, or Pink’s eyes, especially as they were kept out of the loop of Eva’s situation and plans — this would have given them more depth and added a new, interesting layer to the story. In fact, I really just felt like I didn’t know them at all and sort of forgot about them as soon as they were off the page (there’s even another crew member, but I don’t even remember his name because he’s so far in the background for the majority of the book). I also didn’t get the sense of camaraderie that is the most joyful part of these ‘squad’ stories — the chemistry just wasn’t there. At one point, Pink mentions that Eva is her best friend and I thought ‘really? Is she?’. I hope we get to see more from the other characters in later books because they had so much potential to be awesome.
Chilling Effect wasn’t the strongest science fiction book I’ve read, but damn was is fun! I really enjoyed the quirky world building, the fun writing, and the off-beat plot. If you’re looking for a fun book for the summer and love picking out pop culture references in books, you should definitely give Chilling Effect a try.
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