Finished Reading: Stealthy Steps
by Vikki Kestell
My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christian sci-fi thriller
I didn’t fully understand the premise of this book going into it, because the synopsis is more like a boiled-down excerpt from part of the book, with a little extra character introduction. Most of the information is there, but it’s cryptic. Here’s my synopsis though: Gemma Keyes is a young woman fresh out of college, and takes a job as a project manager at a top secret lab. She mostly organizes things and takes meeting notes, but this makes her privy to some classified information. When she hears the wrong information (not her fault), she is fired. Months later, after an accident in the same lab claimed the lives of the 2 top scientists she was working for, she’s contacted covertly by one of those scientists, Dr. Bickel (obviously not dead). She ends up being asked to help him continue his work, which he’s keeping secret from everyone at this point. This work is in nanotechnology. When the government, and in particular, a nasty military general who has no scruples about how she gets information & technology for her military, closes in on Gemma and the man she’s helping, an unexpected incident leaves her invisible. Literally. (Some people see the invisibility aspect as a spoiler, but it’s how the prologue ends, so I see it as part of the set up.)
So…now Gemma has to figure out how to live life completely invisible, which presents all sorts of problems, especially since she practically lives in a fish bowl. Half of the book is about this, as well as her concern about being discovered by the general who went after Dr. Bickel. This half of the book is entertaining and interesting. I liked the relationships Gemma developed both before and after her invisibility. My favorite thing was the ways she tried to communicate with the nanotechnology that is responsible for her uncontrollable invisibility.
The first half of the book had some interesting parts as well–especially the relationships that began and/or developed between Gemma and Dr. Bickel, Gemma and the associate pastor of her old church (more on that below), and an established relationship between Gemma and an older neighbor. However, the first half of the book was bogged down heavily by a lot of exposition and repetition.
First, there is a long and tedious description of how Gemma first got into the secret, abandoned military based where Dr. Bickel directed her to meet him. It might not have been so bad, had we not already given given those steps (most of them), but backward. Then there are the 37-8 pages of Dr. Bickel talking and explaining. Explaining how he avoided dying in the lab explosion, explaining how he got himself set up in this mountain base, and longest of all, explaining how the nanotechnology works. In detail. That most of us reading aren’t going to really follow. Some of it did prove to be important to the rest of the story, but honestly, much of it wasn’t. (At one point, after about 33 pages of explanation, Bickel says, “‘Would you like to hear more about the nanomites before you go, Gemma?'” And I literally thought, “I wish I could say no.”) Since the book is told in 1st person, and Gemma didn’t understand a lot of what he said, I have a very difficult time believing that when she wrote this account some weeks or months later, she could remember all of the science that he spouted. It could have definitely been boiled down for us, and even more so, would have then fit in with the style of narration that the rest of the book has.
Much of the information in the first half of the book would have been okay on its own, but since it was all told together in the first half, it made it difficult to keep reading. I totally understand why the prologue is a long description of the point when Dr. Bickel is discovered in his secret lab by the general, ending with Gemma finding herself invisible. It needed that action and intrigue to get people hooked. Still, if I hadn’t been recommended this book series by my mom who has recently been very anxious for me to read it so she could hear what I thought, I might have at least set it down and come back to it later. As such, once you’re past that half of the book, it does get more interesting. It’s the first book in a short series, so some of the expositiony first part can be explained as set-up to an entire series, and it does have an ending that left me wanting to know more. Still, I think setting up an entire series isn’t an excuse for so much info-dump all at once.
The associate pastor I mentioned above, named Zander, is where the Christian aspect of the book comes in, for the most part. He’s invited to visit Gemma by her older neighbor, and he is a good example of a Christian in fiction. He is generous, compassionate, flawed, and complicated. Gemma sees a lot of sides of him, some of which draw her to him, but others of which push her away. His very Christianity is the biggest obstacle to their developing relationship, though, because Gemma is quite against Christianity. He speaks the truth in love, and shows Christ’s love through his action, while still being a believable human being. I look forward to seeing how this develops in the rest of the series.
I was particularly bothered by some of Gemma’s actions in this book, and the way she excused them, but I think that was intentional. She also got angry, or at least upset, at weird things, which made her seem like sort of a petulant child to me sometimes. I don’t know if that part of her personality was intentional or not. There were a few inconsistencies that stuck out to me (like why Dr. Bickel let Gemma take pictures in his secret lab, after the intense precautions he’d asked her to take in getting there, and in their communications). Also, I feel the need to give some trigger warnings: domestic abuse, child neglect and endangerment, descriptions of or allusions to gang violence.
So to sum up, yes, the first half of the book was slow, but the rest was good enough, and I have faith that the following books will pick up the pace, that I felt the book was worthy of 4 stars. I would recommend the book to fans of Christian mysteries & thrillers and lovers of this type of sci-fi.
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