Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review - The Ultimatum

I hadn't read anything by Karen Robards before but the premise of The Ultimatum sounded fun so I picked up a copy in exchange for a review. The summary introduces us to Bianca St. Ives, a woman who grew up being trained by her father in covert skills to help her in the family business of high profile grifting and theft. The summary continues to explain that their latest job "has a little hiccup" and she is set on a path to try and uncover the truth "behind what really happened."

I'll avoid spoilers in this review but I will say that this book plays an interesting balancing act between focusing on the present time and the history that lead Bianca and her father to the life they are currently involved in. The book begins in Bianca's childhood with an explosively traumatic event that goes largely unexplained for hundreds of pages while still hanging on the periphery as a suspicious influence on the action of the book. When the prologue of the book eventually connects to the main plot, the effect is surprising in a disconnected sort of way. It's an unpredictable twist which is normally fine except that it felt so disconnected from everything else that it left me confused as to what the book was trying to do beyond being 300+ pages of developing Bianca's character to be used in future books. As a side note on Bianca's character, the book summary (and the series subtitle of the book) says "She's known as the Guardian" but nowhere in the book did I notice any reference to her being called the Guardian or any reason why she would be called the Guardian (her role in the jobs she did with her father weren't really "guardian" roles).

The structure of the book struck me as a little odd to read. This is an adventure novel....a thriller. And yet it is a surprisingly slow paced. The first ~100 pages are spent in painstaking detail of the first mission of the book (the one that has the little "hiccup"). We spend multiple pages walking with Bianca across the ballroom floor, down the stairs, through the crowd, etc. We are privy to lengthy segments where Bianca analyzes the situation or where we're given a historical exposition on her relationship to a given character or event or location or whatever happened to cross her line of sight at the moment. This wealth of information is certainly interesting and it really helped me better know her as a character and understand the motivations and situations but the slow pace kept the suspense and thrills to a minimum. Not only was there a lot of detail but it often came in very lengthy sentences or paragraphs so much so that I sometimes had to re-read a segment to make sure I understood what was going on and at times when we finally returned to the main action I had been taken so far astray that the intensity of the situation had dissolved a bit in my mind. It's a difficult criticism for me to make because on the one hand I really enjoyed and appreciated the details and the commentary that's given but on the other hand I was a little frustrated that (for an action/thriller) it took so long for the story to progress in any meaningful way. In that sense, it felt more like a piece of 19th century literary fiction rather than 21st century action/suspense fiction.

There are three main story sequences in the book. There's the bungled mission mentioned in the summary, the mission of Bianca trying to deal with the government/crooks that are after her because of the bungled mission and then there's the overarching "truth behind what really happened" story that begins with the prologue and finally comes back to light in the final few chapters. The main two story arcs felt natural and fun even if (as mentioned above) I often felt like they moved too slowly for what they were doing. The "truth" story arc felt like an odd addition and I felt like it was the main culprit in the slower pace of the main story because those other story elements had to do the heavy lifting of providing details to allow the overarching plot device to finally be revealed at the end. And since the main purpose of that plot line was to set up a series of novels featuring this character, I was a little let down by the way things turned out.

As a couple of random caveats for those wondering about family friendliness I will acknowledge that the book did have swearing but it is minimal. It also includes some awkward moments of "romantic" tension. Mostly it has scenes where Bianca uses her feminine charms and/or slinky dresses (or in one instance, her loss of her dress and thus just her underwear) to try and put her male counterparts off-guard. In a scene involving a strategic kiss there is some language around inconvenient arousal. Mostly I feel like the book would warrant a PG rating (though some of the "arousal" details may make a parent a little wary and push PG-13 for some).

Overall this was an enjoyable read with some interesting story elements. The twist at the end to set up a unique character for a new series is intriguing but I'm debating whether or not the whole package is compelling enough to make me want to seek out another book with this character. I wonder if subsequent books will be allowed tighter pacing because they don't have to try as hard to seed the plot with little secrets or if it will maintain this slower pace throughout. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy slower paced stories and I liked the details and information provided in this book but it was not what I was anticipating with this book and as a result I was let down when I didn't find a faster paced adrenaline riddled book.

It's a fun story with good writing and while the writing style felt a little disconnected from the nature of the story, I don't regret reading this book. If you're interested in a thoughtful adventure/suspense story with some intriguing twists, go ahead and check it out.

3 out of 5 stars

View all of my reviews on

No comments: