Cynthia Felice – Downtime

This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers title, and I’m afraid I persevered to the end only to feel able to write the review. It’s not terrible, but it left me utterly indifferent to plot and characters, and the prose contained enough stylistic issues to really irritate me.

A neo-Roman Republic in space, governed by a decemvirate who have a special talent for reading future possibilities. But tensions are rising as the population expands, notably over access to rejuvenating drugs. When a group of decemvirs become convinced that one of their number has turned traitor and is plotting to help overthrow the government, an ex-decemvir and their military Commander go ‘downtime’ to secure a crop for the future and set a trap. That the backwater planet is governed by the Commander’s former lover, is the only source of an extremely rare crystal, and may or may not be home to a sentient species all add elements to complicate the conflict.

Downtime could have been a rousing political stew; or a simmering romance with an interesting angle on age difference (relativity is a bitch). Instead, I got the sense that the kitchen sink had been considered, but ultimately left in situ because Basil Exposition had gone on strike.

As it was, Basil contributed some truly egregious info dumps, but the editor should also have been spanked for letting through all the repetition. At its worst, the two flaws combined, with one info dump repeated as the second last paragraph of one chapter and the second paragraph of the next. Just in case you missed it, kids.

The prose and characters lack subtlety, reducing what should be a tense personal and political situation to a series of bald statements and awkward conversations. The ill-considered description of one character as a ‘young girl’ by the 40-year-old hero made him come across as truly creepy for several chapters until another character clarified her age.

The plot itself is fine; it lost me in the awkward execution. I won’t rush to seek out other works by Cynthia Felice.