Blood and Roses is an interesting blend of genres – it’s got elements of thriller, romance, music and SF which makes it a different kind of read than the standard fare. At its heart, though, Blood and Roses is a book about a band and I wasn’t sure why Ms Panichi decided to set the story in a SF environment (it’s the year 2453 and humanity has expanded into the stars with bio-domes and settlements on the Moon as well as asteroid belts). About a quarter into the book, I figured out that this was the third book in a loosely linked series where the first two books set in the same “universe” and characters from those other books make an appearance as secondary players.
Omigod – I read the book out of order. Luckily, this book works well enough as a standalone with its own distinct plot and mains – and you don’t have to read the others to enjoy this one. But if you’re like me, there may be a nagging in the back of your mind that you’d kind of like to know more about the secondary characters and their backstory. I suspect, based on the blurbs I read on those books, that the SF elements are much more prevalent in those books. If you aren’t a SF fan, don’t worry – this is more focused on the band, characters and the stalker plots and it just happens to be set in the future. It is not a hard-core spacer kind of book with aliens and complicated technology to get your head around.
The main story revolves around Ari and Rhynn. Ari is the lead guitarist of a successful thrash band who is being stalked by a mysterious admirer who leaves rather creepy messages and presents under the noses of the supposed high security personnel and technologies. While on tour, the drummer quits and the band has to scramble to replace her. Enter Rhynn, a drummer for a local thrash cover band who just happens to know most of their songs. As the band continues their tour aboard a party barge (think massive cruise ship in space with multiple headlining bands playing every night), the stalker ups their game with more daring security breaches and leaving more ominous threats for both Ari, the subject of obsession, and Rhynn who’s budding friendship with Ari has put her in the stalker’s crosshairs.
Oddly, the story is told from three perspectives – Ari’s first person POV, Rhynn’s POV in third person and the security specialist Morgan (from the other books) in third person POV. Morgan’s chapters are few and far between, mostly filling in gaps and information around the ongoing investigation and hunt for the stalker. Flipping from 1st to 3rd person POVs was a bit odd at first, but after the first couple of transitions I didn’t notice it anymore.
As I said the story is mostly about the band and their tour – focusing on Ari and Rhynn as the main characters. Although I normally don’t go for rock/band story lines, I really liked the members of the band and wished there was more emphasis on them, their experiences/bonds and the actual concerts. It’s interesting as well that Panichi didn’t go the route of making the band or Ari stereotypical wild childs who imbibe intoxicants and sleep around. Although the blurb gives the impression that Ari is a bit of a player, she’s actually more of an introvert who takes her music and career seriously – as do all the band members. I must admit, I was particularly taken with the idea of the zero grav cube that was normally at the foot of the stage – a mosh pit/punk slam dance in zero gravity sounds like a helluva lot of fun.
It takes almost a third of the book before Rhynn joins the group, so I would hesitate at categorizing this as a romance but Panichi manages to still build of their relationship convincingly over the remainder of the book. Rhynn struggles with finding her place in the band and trying not to go all fan-girl over Ari. Meanwhile, faced with the increasing stress and fear caused by the stalker, Ali bonds with Rhynn first over music and then over Rhynn’s compassion and silent support. Panichi handles the stalker story line particularly well – especially in keeping the identity under wraps for as long as she did. At some points I was starting to wonder if the stalker was ever going to get caught as they were so damned sneaky and had much better tech than the security folks. The suspense and thrills from some of the actions added a nice bit of zing to the overall story and helped draw Ari and Rhynn closer.
It was a good read but I couldn’t help but wish that there had been more of any one of the elements – more band/music, more romance or more SF. And more zero gravity cubes – I would totally try one out.