Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: Hidden Steel by Duranna Durgin

How many times have you read a book / watched a movie where someone wakes up with no memory of who they are or how they got to wherever? Lots, yes? Fledgling by Octavia Butler and Soldier in the Mist by Gene Wolfe and, well, lots of others. Even more if you include false or misleading memories like in Chime by Billingsley. Oh, and how about The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Pearson, which is all about truly not being the person people tell you that you are. Cuckoo Song by Hardinge, too. Yeah, no shortage of stories using this kind of trope.

Now, how many times have you read a book / watched a movie where someone wakes up with no memory of who they are, and they’re also a prisoner? More than one, I bet. Corwyn of Amber, right? Who else, if right off the bat you remember another one?

Well, now I’ve got another you can add to that list: Micky in Duranna Durgin’s Hidden Steel.

Thus we see that it’s not the cliché that’s the problem, when you happen across a super-common plot element like waking up with no memory of yourself. If there is a problem, it’s with the execution.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s any such thing as a plot that is too clichéd. In the right hands, anything can work. In Durgin’s hands, the waking-up-amnesiac plot works just fine. It’s really fun, actually, from the beginning right on through to the end. No trace of an SF or fantasy plot, btw; this is strictly a contemporary setting.

Micky is, well, she is exactly the kind of person you’d want to be if you woke up with no memory and found yourself being held prisoner by nefarious characters. That’s part of what makes this book so much fun! You don’t want to be misled by the cover.

Despite what this image might suggest, Micky doesn’t stay a prisoner for more than a couple pages, and she doesn’t spend a lot of time feeling sorry for herself. But of course she doesn’t know why she is the kind of person she clearly is – good with violence, good with weapons, good at escaping and staying out of sight while she tries to figure out who kidnapped her and why. Is she a good person or a bad person? She isn’t even sure about that.

Steve Spaneas is a good male lead. He’s got a backstory that explains not only why he’s also pretty good with violence, but also why he’d be inclined to help a woman like Micky. Their relationship develops believably while they both try to find out who Micky actually is and what she is supposed to be doing. There’s plenty of action. I’d say the pace is brisk rather than breakneck, but I don’t think anybody is going to get bored waiting for the plot to unroll. The overall plot struck me as a little strained, but really not too much so given the genre conventions. Plus Durgin sells the plot well; there’s no moment when you’re likely to think, Oh, come on, seriously? It all makes sense in context.

I think of Duranna Durgin as a fantasy author, but I guess she’s branched out because this is an adventure-romance kind of thing. In that order, because though the romance is important, it’s not quite as dominant as I’d expect in a romance-adventure. This is a restrained romance, too, no super sexy scenes, so if you prefer less explicit sex in your romance, this would be a good one to try.

Evidently Durgin has at least one more adventure-romance book out, Making the Rules, because there’s a teaser at the end of Hidden Steel. I’m not much for teasers; as long as I’m pretty confident I’ll like the book, I’m happy to just pick it up and toss it on my TBR pile and find out what the first chapter holds when I open it up for real. After thoroughly enjoying Hidden Steel, I am indeed pretty certain I’ll enjoy another story of this type from Durgin, so I’ve picked up Making the Rules — I’m pretty likely to get to it soon-ish, too, because I like contemporaries when I’m working on a fantasy of my own.

Okay, what other wake-up-a-prisoner-with-no-memory stories come to mind for you? I honestly feel there are a thousand, but Nine Princes in Amber is the one that I thought of first and then I couldn’t think of any other specific examples

Is the amnesia thing a trope that tends to pull you in or push you away? For me this particular trope is a slight negative, so an author had to do a pretty darn good job to make it work for me. How about you all?

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5 Comments Recent Reading: Hidden Steel by Duranna Durgin

  1. Elaine T

    The most recent one I read was Caught in Amber by J.M.Ney-Grimm. She got my attention in various comment threads, probably over at Passive Voice. I’ve left the only Amazon review so you can go look at it to see what I thought. I liked it. I’m glad I gave her a second chance after finding the first I tried not holding my interest. I’ve since read several by her. She even wrote a Beauty & The Beast/East o’the Sun retelling that had me wishing it were longer – which Doesn’t Happen.

  2. Rachel

    I’m intrigued by Caught in Amber, especially since the set up sounds a good deal like Haskell’s Castle Behind Thorns in terms of one character on stage. I generally really like a focus on solving everyday needs combined with the bigger problems. So, yes, I’m picking this one up now.

  3. Kim Aippersbach

    Conjured, by Sarah Beth Durst, was a very interesting amnesia/not-exactly-imprisoned-but-sort-of story. Similar to Cuckoo Song and Chime.

    I quite like this trope, when it’s well-done; I like how it explores identity and the possibility of defining one’s self.

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