Synopsis – With blood on her hands, strange words coming out of her mouth, and her face all over the media, Em knows that she stopped the jungle battle, stormed into the armed courtroom, and defeated the zealot soldiers. However, as she works for the aliens controlling her, her emotions are torn between what she knows must be her real life and the life she is now living. How is it that she is able to step into the middle of a war and stop it without getting killed? How is it she doesn’t remember her “old” life? And, how will she decide whether or not she wants this sci fi life that’s been thrust on her? Yves, one of the gods from out there somewhere, is assigned to take care of Earth. He’s a rookie learning to be a Power and trying to communicate with Em. For full media impact, Yves manipulates the reporting to maintain constant attention on Em and her exploits. The world falls in love with this “madame of miracles.” Meanwhile, Em agonizes over the impact of her actions and whether or not they are right. Em is not the only one confused and agonizing. Coming from the sterile world of the gods, Yves succumbs to human emotions. Jealousy takes over as he watches Em and her lover. He plots to end their affair, but in doing so risks losing his chance for advancement, his chance to free his people, and even risks losing his life.
My Review – I don’t usually read science fiction or fantasy. In fact, it’s the last thing I’d choose to read. However, I read Darlene’s biography and wondered how she was able to solve her heartbreak over wanting to help the people she met while living in Mali many years ago. When Darlene signed up for Author Wednesday (see post from April 3, 2013), I decided to read Embattled, the first book in her series. My review is based solely on my enjoyment as a reader, not on my knowledge of how a science fiction novel should be written.
Through the other worldly powers of Em, or Miracle Madam as the world comes to know her, the reader travels to the worst corners of hell that exist right here on Earth. From Africa to Europe and back again to the gangland streets of Los Angeles, we are transported along with Em. In the beginning, Em suffers the shock of her new abilities that have come to her as an adult as the result of a typical wish of any caring ten-year-old child. She wished back then for the magic to save the world.
Em struggles with her decisions and even wonders if war isn’t something that must exist in this world in order to achieve peace. The answers aren’t easy and neither is the work. I believe Em is the incarnation of the author’s wish to save her beloved Mali.
I read once that classic novels do one of two things. Either the hero is extraordinary and is put into ordinary circumstances and forced to cope with the everyday world. Or the hero is ordinary and is placed into extraordinary situations and forced to cope. Em falls into the latter group. She’s a normal high school principal who is suddenly thrust onto the world stage making destiny-changing decisions as she becomes the most revered and beloved woman in the world. She’s a modern day Joan of Arc who must sacrifice her ordinary life to achieve the goal of straightening out Earth for the better. Ms. Jones achieved a level of believability for me that I didn’t think would be possible in a science fiction novel.
The “Powers” who guard and pull the puppeteer’s strings on Em are a fantastical lot, from Yves to the Mentor to Elspeth, Yves’ sister. The switch in point of view, from the Powers to earth, is very confusing in the beginning. Also, the switch in setting with Em’s character from principal to the Miracle Madame is equally confusing at first. However, with the inclusion of Ron, her eventual lover, I found myself grounded and better able to make the transitions. Ron is an average-looking actor who’s thrust into the limelight by a movie Em helps produce. His rather mundane and ordinary life is touching and pitiful, even after he meets Em because he knows he can’t keep her with him or do anything to stop the course of events. When I found myself thinking about the characters after I stopped reading, I knew the author managed to hook me with the plot.
As the Powers observe the happenings on Earth, the reader learns more about Em, and as unbelievable as the Powers seem, they make the Earth characters more realistic.
Many characters are introduced during the novel, but most are only mentioned once. I found it confusing and wondered at the necessity of including them. Some of them, such as Tony, could have been expanded for more depth of Ron. In addition, Francois seems to be an important character in the beginning of the book, but he is only mentioned in passing in the rest of the novel. Perhaps he comes back in the next book in the series. I hope so because I felt he was one character I’d like know better.
Ms. Jones makes several important commentaries on our modern world. Em argues with Ron over the issue of salaries of movie stars and the discrepancy in what a teacher makes each year. Through Em, we also are given a view into our acts of giving to those less fortunate than ourselves by simply writing a check. Em takes Ron down into the streets of L.A. to see what it’s really like for the folks he thinks he’s helping by giving them money without knowledge of what’s it’s really like to be poor and to live without hope.
Embattled is a book that made me think. I recommend trying it, even if you aren’t a fan of science fiction. I did, and I liked it. In addition, I’d like to continue reading this series and applaud the author for bringing attention to the plight of those less fortunate through an entertaining art form.