Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book Review: "Vortex" by Julie Cross

When a series starts with a bang, as Tempest, the first book in Julie Cross' Tempest trilogy did last year, you wonder whether the subsequent books in the series will be just as good, if not better. And after reading Vortex, I can say that while this book took a little while to find its rhythm, overall, it's a worthy successor to Tempest, and I am really interested to see how Cross ties the series up.

In Tempest, Jackson Meyer discovers that in addition to the pressures of college and maintaining his relationship with his girlfriend, Holly, he's a time traveler. He can't go too far into the past or the future, and is just beginning to understand the limitations of his time traveling abilities. The more time he spends trying to understand time travel, the more a group of people called the "Enemies of Time," who use time travel for apparently nefarious purposes, want to enlist Jackson in their work—or they'll kill him.

As Vortex begins, Jackson has made the decision to leave Holly and his best friend, Adam, alone, so they'll be safe from harm. He becomes an agent with Tempest, the branch of the CIA that handles all time travel-related problems. As he throws himself into his training, he tries hard to deal with his fellow agents who resent him, and keeps everyone at arm's length in an effort not to feel the hurt of losing people again.

Jackson finds himself back in New York City, trying to help track down members of Eyewall, an opposing division of the CIA which uses the Enemies of Time as its agents. He also comes face to face with Holly—although she looks and acts like his former girlfriend, the similarities end there, and as he tries to find more about this Holly, he realizes the differences have far-reaching implications. And as Jackson tries to better understand how time travel works, and the damage it can do, he struggles to find out what is true and what is being manipulated—and who is trying to damage those he loves.

At its heart, Vortex has many of the same characteristics that made Tempest such a great book—compelling characters; a fascinating (if slightly confusing) storyline, particularly where time travel is concerned; and plenty of suspense, because, like Jackson and his fellow agents, you aren't sure who to trust or what is real and what is being manipulated. While I obviously cannot identify with the time travel-related issues Jackson is struggling with, the emotional challenges he faces transcend the complex nature of the plot, and he is a tremendously sympathetic and multi-layered character.

My challenge with this book is the complexity of the plot Cross has created. There are so many permutations related to time travel and so many scenarios about its effects that even Jackson and those in the agency aren't quite sure of all of the implications, which makes it confusing for the reader. There is so much technical language to wade through at the start of the book, I kept waiting for the actual plot to take hold, and once it did, I really found myself drawn into the story, racing through the book.

If you enjoy books that explore worlds about which you may never know (or maybe you do, and that's a whole different story), I'd definitely encourage you to read both books in Cross' series. But if the technicalities confuse you a bit at first, don't despair; you'll be rewarded with a gripping, complex, and fascinating story that explores a wide range of emotional and philosophical questions.

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