Written By: Karen Traviss
Published By: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
After reading and thoroughly enjoying the third book in Karen Traviss' Wess'har Wars series, I sent my kudos to the author. She clued me on a new series she was writing and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of Going Grey, the first book in the Ringer Trilogy.
Ian Dunlop is a teenage boy who lives on a secluded farm, loves old military movies and his grandmother, the only living member of his family and the only one who truly understands him. You see, Ian would like to be like any other teenager, wondering whether he should ask a certain girl out, worrying about whether what he is wearing makes him look cool or not, worrying about what to study for his finals at school. But Ian isn't like every teenager - every time he looks in the mirror, he sees a different person.
For years, Ian thought he was crazy, avoiding looking into anything that could show his reflection and reveal the unrecognizable. But then Gran died and Ian's world changed. The papers Gran left behind revealed that Ian wasn't crazy...that he was the product of gene-splicing experimentation. When he looked in the mirror, he wasn't imagining changes in his appearance - they were real.
Gran took care of everything for Ian, protecting him from anyone who might want to harm him. Now he was going to have to do it alone. Deciding to follow up on one of the people Gran said he could trust to protect him, Ian delivers information about the experiment that helped bring him into this world to a online conspiracy theory magazine. Unfortunately, that idea backfires, placing Ian in great danger. The leader of a growing scientific firm believes that Ian's abilities were engineered in his labs and he wants his "property" back at all costs.
Thanks to a powerful senator, Ian's safety rests in the hands of Mike, the senator's son whose integrity has led him down a different path than his politically based father, and his work partner and friend Rob, a former Royal Marine who struggles with civilian life. Together Mike and Rob make a formidable team, but what can they do for a teenager who can't control his morphing abilities, yet wants to be a normal productive member of society? And how can they help him in that category and keep him safe at the same time?
When I first started reading Going Grey, I wondered just how any of these characters fit together. You are first introduced to this teen who can't look at his own reflection for fear that he won't recognize what he sees. Then you meet Rob, a Royal Marine about to be discharged who saves the life of an American mercenary named Mike. Now, I could see how Rob and Mike would become friends and how, when Rob struggles with civilian life in England, they could become more than just friends, but where did Ian fit in. But then Gran dies and you realize just what Ian is and what kind of protection he is going to need to help keep his secret as well as his very existence safe.
But this isn't just one of your science fiction novel featuring a character who can morph at will and a bunch of shoot 'em up action and adventure. There is more to Going Grey than that. There are some really intriguing themes here. Each of the main characters have a struggle with identity - Ian for the more obvious reasons, but even Rob and Mike struggle to figure out just who they really are. Rob has been a soldier most of his life. To have to retire and become a civilian is heartbreaking for a man who needs a sense of purpose in life. He doesn't just want to be a mercenary - he hates the ugly connotation of the word - he wants his jobs to have a meaning and a moralistic integrity making what he does something he can live with, free of guilt. Mike wants to be a father, but he is not quite sure just how to go about it until Ian shows up. It's sort of a trial by fire and Mike really isn't certain he is up for the task...just what kind of father can he really be?
Then there is the scientific debate regarding bioengineering. Is it okay to tamper with genes to create a sort of superhuman? Is it okay to play with unborn embryos, mixing human genes with that of octopi or other such animals to create a desired trait in humans? Would you do it to save mankind from a disease? Or would it be okay just to create an army of super soldiers to protect your country against invasion? Where do the moral and ethical boundaries lay?
Karen Traviss has a way of making the reader care for her characters. She also has a way of giving characters, whose descriptions remind you of someone you would normally cross the street to get away from, some of the best moral and ethical traits, making them complex and incredibly interesting. It's the guys in the well-pressed suits with all the best intentions posted on the surface that turn out to be the basest of bad guys in Traviss' novels. The ones who look like rugged, evil-doers are actually the good guys, while the clean cut types are the ones you have to watch out for. I love that about Traviss' novels.
I also loved the name of the book. Going Grey is not a very straight forward title. You have to read into the novel at some length...or have some idea of covert ops...to know just what it means: to blend in with the surroundings so much as to be unnoticeable. It's something that Ian is going to have to work very hard on if he wants to survive.
Going Grey was a terrific reading experience - an engaging story that didn't seem all that farfetched, characters you could get invested in, moral and ethical issues that are cause for conversation around the dinner table or in your own very special reading circle, and some bits of action and adventure to boot. Going Grey has everything a thinking sci-fi fan could ever want out of a novel. I can't wait to read the next book in the Ringer series!