Last week I acquired "Removed" (The Nogiku Series Book 1) by S. J. Pajonas as a perma-free promotion from one of my book deal mailing lists (BookBub?).
Please be advised that I mention plot spoilers. If you don't like spoilers, go read the books then come back here. The first one's a perma-free. If you don't like it, that's okay. Come back here, save yourself some time and read these spoilers.
But me, I enjoyed the first book enough I went and bought the omnibus. Glad to say this series gave me a week's cheerful reading. Check your brain in at the door and enjoy.
Removed is, essentially, a Japanese-inspired Science Fiction city-in-a-bubble story. Nishikyo is a city in northern Canada that must exist under a dome, as the Earth's biosphere is pretty much hashed. While this is mere worldbuilding in the first novel, and not much about this comes to play here, I'm mentioning it now, because throughout this series of four books, in every book stuff gets ramped up big-time. But for now, just know that Our Heroine lives in a dome city that's 75% Japanese, located in northern Canada.
Half-Japanese Sanaa Griffin is an engineer who likes her job, has a friend-with-benefits and lives with her lesbian aunts after being orphaned as a toddler.
Then the middle-aged Mark Sakai comes along and essentially forces a job transfer on her. She's now shoved in some room doing surveillance video analysis. Who are all these people on Big Bro Cam and why is she watching them and plotting their every move? Because politics.
But why her? All Sanaa wants to do is go to her old job, pal about with her besties and dream of love (as every twenty-year-old Japanese girl is supposed to do).
At least Mark Sakai hasn't completely isolated her from the world. That would be creepy. Instead, he introduces her to cute and sexy Jiro, who teaches Sanaa martial arts and self-defence.
So, what is all this for? Surprise, Sanaa is actually the last surviving descendant from Japan's Last Emperor, and apparently the Empress-to-be of what's left of Japan in Nishikyo. [Whoa! Level up!] No wonder she's gotta bone up on her politics and the Clans.
Her mother, it turns out, was assassinated, and it was believed Sanaa had also died at the same time. But thanks to Mark Sakai, Sanaa was really switched out with her cousin (who did die), thus hiding her from those who would seek to kill the last empress.
So, now that she's a legal adult, she's come out as the empress, and certain clans are unhappy. So much so, they attempt to assassinate her during an earthquake at the kabuki theatre. (Remember that damaged biosphere? Causes issues.)
But Sanaa's a tough bird, and rescues herself from her would-be assassin by cutting off her own hair (because he was using it as a leash) and then cutting off his head with a sword. Bad-ass.
The plot of this book was thick and well-paced and the voice was easy to read. I had to read the next one.
Released, book 2, starts with Sanaa in isolation while she heals from her ordeal. Her emergence had led to a bit of an escalation in political tensions, especially as many people died in the ninja attack on the kabuki theatre. Sanaa was not raised to be empress. Her aunts raised her to have a normal life, even going so far to live in a non-Japanese neighbourhood. She is not ready to deal with the emotional baggage of being an empress.
The only steady influence in her life is her boyfriend Jiro. He's solid and unwavering. Even Mark Sakai, who's taken on a strange sort of head-of-the-clan uncle type, is untrustworthy; he holds too many secrets.
When Sanaa gets out of isolation-hospital, she returns to Nishikyo to a chilly reception. A lot of people blame her for the ninja attack that killed many family members. Everyone's intertwined in one way or another, and family deaths hit them hard.
Also, clan loyalties waver and lots of Old Business comes out.
But she's gotta pull it together and she's got to use her natural charm to help restore peace among the clans. This is very necessary, as there's a desperate need to leave Earth. For decades there's been a plan to evacuate earth for a habitable world known as Yusei. Politics happen, and the coordinates for Yusei got changed. (But nobody questions this, or asks WTF. They just go along with it, trusting that they're told this planetary candidate is viable, and a better option than the other one.)
Sanaa manages to get her act together enough to get the clans to a standstill enough for the first wave to board the starships and take off for this new world. [Whoa! Level up!] Bye, Earth.
The third book Reunited ups the ante. When the immigrants arrive, they discover the planet Yusei is already inhabited by previous Japanese spacefarers, who left earth over three hundred years ago. [Whoa! Level up!] A few people knew about this secret, knew exactly which planet the previous travellers had left for, and a couple of the clans knew exactly where they were going, and were hoping to ally themselves with the luddite Fujiwara clan who lived on Yusei. This is so they can finally overthrow Sanaa as empress and get on with their lives.
Also, Sanaa's B/C implant failed, and she's knocked up. Yay, this is what she wanted.
So, the traitorous clans kidnap Sanaa and sell her to Fujiwara, who don't intend on killing her, but "breeding the gaijin out of her bloodline", and thus place her descendants under Fujuwara control.
Lots of people, including Jiro, think this is a bad idea, and they break her out of there before son-of-Fujiwara can get over his brewers droop and his FA preferences.
Alas, with the stress of her rescue, and issues with high metabolisms and imperial stress, Sanaa loses the baby. For this, and other reasons (like misogyny), Sanaa decides Fujiwara's gotta go. Meanwhile, a local ally's horse seems to like her very much.
Secrets she learns: Mark Sakai once had the hots for Sanaa's mom, but her mother chose an English gaijin to father her child. Mark then goes off with Sanaa's paternal aunt, fathers the cousin that died when her mother was assassinated, and does his best to make up for past mistakes. Regrets abound.
The last book, Reclaimed, is where Sanaa realises she needs to overthrow the Fujiwara clan and deliver the world back to true and good citizens everywhere. Too many people are dying in the conflict and laying the blame at her feet. But with so many clans against her, she's got to find her allies elsewhere. And those allies are....
...the animals. Turns out, the previous settlers of Yusei genetically engineered the animals to be able to technologically converse with certain people who had a mind-meld chip. But they also genetically altered the animals to be able to recognise the genes of the emperor's line. Turns out, Sanaa has the ability (once she gets the chip implanted) to talk with all animals. [Whoa! Level up!] At this point I was seriously questioning my suspension of disbelief, but thought, I'm this far, and I'm reading this for escapist purposes, so I choose to accept this and go with the flow.
Sanaa's ability to communicate with all animals is unique, but not unusual. Lots of other people are able to sync up with a certain type, say, cats, or horses. It's this animal network that provides a planet with severely limited techonology a way of communicating across long distances without having to reply on Imperial post.
There's a big battle at the end, with all the bad guys intending on taking over a tiny little town of artists, because it's a good place to gather armies and plan their major (and final) assault on the empress' city.
Sanaa and her mates sneak into town ahead of the baddies, and spring an ambush on them (with lions and other wildlife assisting) before they can get their act together. Chalk up a win for the good guys.
So yeah, this series is plot-heavy, though sometimes I think the reasoning behind the plot is stretching it. I read this because I wanted to go on a fun ride, and I got it.
Recommendation: Yeah. If you like stories heavy with Japanese influences and a surprising amount of Fantasy in your Sci-Fi, you may enjoy this. (Never hurts to try the perma-free.) I do recommend you suspend your disbelief for a lot of stuff. Don't think too hard about this one. This is brain candy, this is the cupcake in your reading diet.
Will I seek out more from this author? Probably will, but after having indulged in four books over the week, I need a palate-cleanser.
Her Grace thinks the perma-free model is a great way to draw in new readers.