On the whole, this was an enjoyable read. Taken strictly as a roguish thriller, it was an exciting, fast-paced, cinematic adventure. Like any good thriller, it demonstrates a definite flair for location and an understanding of cultures that allows the reader to become completely immersed in the various settings – both domestic and foreign.
The key action scenes are worthy of any big-budget (or big name) espionage tale. The story opens with an intimate depiction of a long-distance assassination that definitely sets the tone for what is to follow. Later in the book, there is a fantastic fight scene between three of the main characters that plays well upon past and present relationships, and which ably illustrates the peril of Jesse’s transformation. As for the climax, it’s both well-placed and well-paced, with everyone at risk atop the rushing waterfalls of the Iguazu River.
Unfortunately, the weakest aspect of the book is the characterization. While the two main characters are eventually fleshed out (for the most part), if feels as if their secrets are kept from us (and from each other) for too long. Without understanding their backgrounds, a lot of what happens between the Jesse and Kristin strains credibility, to the point of becoming dangerously clichéd.
With Kristin, there are three ‘secrets’ that drive her actions. The first is what caused her to become a lesbian, a date rape that is referenced so casually, it actually makes it easier to accept that a one night with Jesse can ‘cure’ her sexuality. The second is what motivates her to feminize Jesse, a revenge fantasy hidden from the reader for so long that it’s almost irrelevant by the time she finally shares it. The last is her motivation for taking such extraordinary measures – which should seriously complicate her love affair with Jesse – which isn’t revealed until the very end, at which time it serves more to confuse than clarify her storyline.
As for Jesse, his deepest motivations simply aren’t explained, so we never really get to understand what prompted a hero to become a paid assassin. By the time we get to see any of his heroic traits in action, it’s purely an act of love, separate from any internal moral conflict. As a matter of fact, he's still very much a rogue, as his ultimate seduction/deception of Kristin illustrates. As for his transformation from dangerous womanizer into a committed lover, it’s a bit too convenient for the plot, but that’s to be forgiven as an obvious staple of the genre.
What’s really interesting about Jesse’s character – and, for me, this is what made the story work – is how he reacts and responds to his feminization. Initially, he seems to take to it a bit too easy, but we know he's an assassin with a flair for deception, so that mitigates the ease. What really makes the transformation work is how he so carefully plays along, but never succumbs to his own deceit. Even if his physical transformation is a bit too easy, Jesse's emotional and psychological reaction to the situation is realistic – especially in his bizarre confrontation with the SRS psychologist – and that keeps the story grounded.
If you can get your hands on a copy . . . and that’s a big if . . . this is worth a read. Fortunately, the follow-up (Skylord) is still readily available, and reportedly reads well as both a sequel and a standalone adventure. Hopefully it provides us with a bit more insight into what defines the characters, while keeping the same level of tension alive, in which case I suspect this first volume will be that much richer for the experience.