Azure by author Grant Palmquist follows the story of Asher Cain, a government employee and pilot of police drone aircraft, until his own government spies on him and finds that his thoughts are no longer 100% in line with theirs, and they instead turn on him, forcing Asher to run from the government to whom he was so loyal. Still reeling from the loss of his wife and child, he comes to understand how tyrannical the government actually is and seeks to find a way to live outside the nation.
This novel was problematic for me, and to tell you the truth I’ve been trying to write an effective review of it for the past week but haven’t gotten very far. While I see several other reviewers really enjoyed it on some sites I frequent, for me it left out a lot, or pushed too hard at my boundary for suspension of disbelief. I also had issue with some philosophies expounded upon in the work, but I will get to that a bit further down. There was nothing particularly wrong with the technical writing aspects itself, I just didn’t find the story overly engaging.
While the idea is a good one, and right up my alley, the execution was what got me. The biggest problem I had was the lack of motivation for almost every character in the book – from our main charachter, Asher Cain’s, 180° philosophical change, to the motivation of the government, to the romance that develops between Asher and Autumn. Asher is shown in the beginning as a naive, and rather weak person, and I felt more connection with him as a character then, than I did when he all of a sudden turned into a brutal warrior, fighting against the system. I felt like Palmquist didn’t do an overly effective job of showing that change to the reader, or why that change takes place, and the reasons he did offer up fell flat. In fact, most of the notes I made about this book while reading it were about various characters and the lack of motivation for any the actions they were taking. There is one time in particular that sticks out in my mind where Asher is grappling with the best way to save as many innocent people as he can, but in the same breath, he has no problem shooting those very same innocent people. It just doesn’t add up, and not purposefully so.
The romance that develops between Asher and Autumn very much didn’t ring true either – Palmquist offered me nothing to show why or how they connected, besides a few long stares between the two. Within the span of weeks the characters are deeply in love, but there’s no simpatico of their personalities or wants or desires that the reader is privy to. In fact, Autumn is basically a non-character, she has absolutely no personality, strength, or personal philosophy, so the fact that Asher falls madly in love with her is either indicative of a deep character flaw in him (which is not what the author was trying to do), or just lazy writing.
I also felt that Palmquist skipped over too many parts in the book – we come in after Asher’s wife and child have left him, when it felt like we should have come into the story right as they were leaving. Likewise, when Asher has to run from his old life because of persecution by the big-bad government, he finds refuge with a band of other people who are living beneath the streets, but we skip over weeks and weeks where we should be making the journey with him while he finds his footing in this new world that is so vastly different than the one he has lived in his whole life.
There are also some laughable good guy/bad guy aim and abilities moments that really shook me out of the story; Asher learns to fly a hovering vehicle for the first time and is able to outrun trained police on those very same craft, as well as his stellar aim with a gun that makes him able to kill at will, despite the fact he’s never held a gun before. Likewise, the police are absolutely incapable of shooting him whenever they try.
I also took issue with the author directly (or almost directly) lifting quotations from Star Wars and Psycho and incorporating them into his dialogue. I’m not sure if Palmquist even realized he had done it – but both quotations are pretty famous ones, and that irked me.
Now for the philosophies that really didn’t jive with me: all the women in the book are extremely passive and meek, except for Asher’s wife, who we never get to meet, so she effectively doesn’t exist for the reader. At several different points, male characters, who are supposed to be the good guys, refer to “their women”, and refuse to let them go up above street level because it’s “too dangerous” for women. In fact, the only woman who was strong – Asher’s wife – ends up dead because of her beliefs and the fact she wants to make a better life for herself. What the hell kind of message is that?
Technically speaking, Palmquist is a great writer – sentence structure, grammar, and the technical aspects of language are used correctly. But there’s almost no flow or beauty to the words, and the story suffers greatly from it. To me, it read like somebody who has spent a long time writing in academia, rather than writing creatively.
So, all in all, 2 stars for the idea which really could have worked, and the technical use of language. It’s an OK book, but the philosophies towards female characters, and the lack of character development and motivations really make this work fall flat.