(See Thomas’ notes on how he grades)
No, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon to review someone who has a Hugo nomination. I actually read and reviewed this book long before last year’s Hugo awards were even a dream. In this case it ends up to be a happy coincidence.
For anyone who knows me, getting any A grade is like pulling teeth. What’s worse is that Caller Unknown is really a group of short stories all around the main character, Karen Wilson. I have a predisposition to dislike anthologies. With that background and the grade I gave it, you can see how much I liked Caller Unknown.
While Caller Unknown is a series of short stories, they read more like chapters in a book all pointing toward the same ending. Each one builds on the next, upping the stakes just like a normal novel would.
Karen Wilson is a 911 operator who, at home, gets an anonymous call asking for help in an urgent manner. The caller, identifying himself only as Reginald, asks her to warn someone. The mysterious person, not someone of Karen’s acquaintance, is the target of an assassin. Her agreement leads Karen quickly into the seething politics of the paranormal and cult activities, of which she knew nothing about, in her home city.
To tell any more would give so many spoilers I would be tripping over myself. This book alone shows why Jennifer Brozek has been nominated for a Hugo award as editor of an anthology. I greedily purchased book two of the series and am eager to find time to read it.
Click on the book cover to go look at the story for yourself on Amazon.
Karen’s city develops as this political center of intrigue for the supernatural forces of the world. The detailed interweaving of the designs of each of these groups made me purr. It wasn’t forced and didn’t seem contrived but rather natural as if it really happened all around me.
The city itself emerged as a strong character itself by showing different areas where you might lose memories and even others where practical truces between antagonists were natural to avoid the notice of less perceptive humans.
I’m not one to be taken by surprise but I have to say that the eventual identity of the caller, dribbled to us bits at a time, shocked and delighted me.
The Not So Good
My major gripe (and the only reason this doesn’t get a full blown A) is that I personally couldn’t buy an intelligent woman, at the behest of an unknown person, letting herself be sent on what could have very easily been a snipe hunt or even a dangerous liaison. This is a 911 operator who has heard it all. It seemed completely out of character. I’ll note that it was the ONLY place I felt Karen made an irrational decision. So trust me that it’s worth swallowing that one tiny bit and going forward, but I very nearly set down the book at that point (I’m so glad I didn’t).
While intentional (I’ve asked the author), Karen’s character remained undescribed throughout the book. I was forced into doing something I don’t like (work) to imagine someone by myself. I personally would have preferred having this part spoon fed to me.
As a minor nit, I would have liked a better cover.