Rating: 4.5 stars
When assassin Liam Lansing receives the name of his next target, he sees the chance for not only a big monetary pay off but a chance for revenge as well. The name of his next victim is Daniel Harding, heir to the Cybernetix empire and the reason for Liam’s descent into hell and his life as a contract killer. A formerly wealthy vampire, Liam now lives in The Gutter, the place where all the earth’s industry and refuse (material and human) is consigned. Liam once lived in The Sky, with the clean air and fantastic skyscraper towers where the wealthy live and play, where Liam’s family still live. All lost because he took a human lover, Daniel Harding.
Daniel Harding hates his father and Cybernetix, the modification empire his father founded. The firm exists on the exploitation of it’s workers, the environment, and Daniel hates that the modifications are turning people into more machines than human beings. Even the vampires has been seduced into the modification frenzy that Cybernetix promises. But Daniel has been imprisoned by his father in his condo in The Sky and waits his father’s next move in their war between them.
Liam’s hatred for Daniel runs to the father as well. So taking money from Harding to kill his son seemed like a wonderful idea until he finds out that Harding doubled crossed him and has laid a trap for Liam, with Daniel being the lure. But when Liam and Daniel comes together again after years apart, will Liam’s hatred hold true or can he put it aside long enough for them to work together and escape the trap planned for them both.
It is hard for me to believe that A Chip in His Shoulder is a mere 78 pages, as it is such a densely packed vision of a vividly described dystopian world. Witt really makes both The Gutter and The Sky come to life, especially the torments of life in The Gutter. I had visions of Victorian England in the worst parts of the city, blackened by coal, air dense with sooty particles. The Gutter has much the same acrid flavor and the author makes you feel the grimness of life there and the poverty of spirit acutely. The Gutter is contrasted beautifully by The Sky with its dwellings, sleek structures of steel and glass that shine brightly in air that is being constantly cleaned to the detriment of all who live beneath in The Gutter.
Dropped into this setting are just wonderful characters that will find you craving more of their backhistories. Liam, the reluctant contract killer, who once was an idealistic young man in love with the wrong person. Liam was then, like many a fallen hero, thrown out of heaven or in this case The Sky for his impudence and life choices and lands in hell. During his confrontation with Daniel, we get glimpses of just how far Liam fell but nothing further. Perhaps that will come in future books. But it all adds up to a marvelous, multilayered character who captures our empathy and imagination from the start and never lets it go.
Daniel Harding is that recognizable erstwhile well off idealist whose privileged background has given him the reason as well as outlet for his pent-up anger and outrage. He is perhaps not as immediately emotionally accessible as Liam, but as their confrontation continues, it becomes clear that the author has given just as much thought to Daniel as she has Liam, and that there are hidden depths waiting to surface in him. Daniel really grew on me in this story and one of it’s major frustrations is that the book stops just when you feel you getting a handle on him as a character.
The plot is tightly woven and intense, the swift-paced action moving the story forward at a clip. Really, parts of this story will take your breath away. Had this been a movie, the popcorn would have been munched at as rapid a pace as the story unfolded. The au;thor really knows how to build the suspense and keep it balanced right on the edge, before she drops you over. L.A. Witt does such a great job that when the end does come, you are not quite prepared to let this couple and their story go.
And that is my major and only quibble with this story – the length. The author just did not seem to complete the picture she started painting. The outline and major elements are brilliant, the swatches of paint bold and applied with fervor but just a little more detail was needed to complete this portrait of a couple and world in the first stages of revolution. I just loved it and am moving on quickly to its sequel, Something New Under The Sun (Falling Sky #2). Really, what an amazing start to a new series. A Chip in His Shoulder is another example of why L.A. Witt has become a “must read” for me and many others. Don’t pass it by.
Cover: Cover art by L.C. Chase. I find the cover very dramatic. I only wish there had been some way to convey some of the modifications on the model that are so central to the characters and the story.