Can you call it star-crossed lovers, if one of them really is from the stars? That’s the set-up with Neptune’s Tears, a YA and genre debut for Waggoner. Zee McAdams is an empath, working in a London hospital in the 2218, where she helps to ease patients’ pain, healing them through the power of her mind. Then she meets David Sutton, who may look like one of us, but isn’t. He’s one of a number of visitors from the planet Omura, extremely distant cousins of humanity who have come to Earth in order to study our art and culture.
Even though falling in love is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to an empath, as it shatters their focus and weakens their abilities, Zee falls for David with astonishing speed. Against the backdrop of a series of horrible terror attacks which rock London and the rest of the world, they find a connection that surprises and scares them. But perhaps it’s too quick, too soon, for David swiftly pulls back, citing a host of reasons—not least of which is that his people would never approve of their relationship. But Zee’s not willing to let him go so easily.
As the terror attacks continue, Zee’s psychic abilities grow in strength, giving her a vital edge in predicting, maybe even stopping them before they can occur. Meanwhile, she fights for her relationship with David, the two finding ways to get past Omuran scrutiny and technology. But there’s still one more secret waiting to be revealed, and it will change everything. Can their newfound love survive the truth?
Neptune’s Tears is, at its heart, a romance. Girl meets guy, girl falls in love with guy, girl loses, fights for, regains, and is willing to give up everything for guy. It’s a very sweet, well-done, charming bit of romance. And then it has…well, other stuff.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a perfectly lovely book. Clocking in at just over 220 pages, it’s also a bit slim, perhaps too much so for the amount of subplot it tries to incorporate. You have the terror attacks, in which an unusually fiendish sort of sonic bomb wreaks invisible havoc with its victims, which are launched by a poorly fleshed-out group of anarchists seeking an end to all civilization and a return to nature. You have Zee’s inexplicably growing psychic abilities, which take her from empathy to precog and much more. You have Zee’s relationship with friends and family, which includes something of a rivalry with a fellow empath…and it all plays second fiddle to the forbidden love between the heroine and her alien suitor.
I wanted to like Neptune’s Tears more than I did. However, there’s just something about this book which doesn’t entirely ring true in my experience. Despite an interesting premise and some decent worldbuilding, it feels almost shallow. The characters never quite leap off the page, nor stick in the mind, and it doesn’t seem like they truly have to struggle for what they want. The few obstacles in their path are easy to deal with or circumvent.
And then there’s the ending. Which I can’t discuss because I don’t do spoilers. But one part of it, where a wonderful supporting character sacrifices themselves to help thwart another terror bombing, makes me weep for the waste of a good character. And then there’s something of a twist which calls much of the preceding story into question, and makes the reader look at things in a whole new light. Yeah, it’s a Big Reveal which sets up the inevitable sequel, and it’s actually kind of cool. But does Waggoner earn it? Does she set up the clues and little details, and construct the story in such a way that we can buy into this dramatic revelation?
I’ll be generous, and say yes. But only because it, quite honestly, makes more sense than the story we’ve been given up to that point. Now if only it didn’t happen three pages from the end, giving both readers and Zee herself absolutely no time to come to terms with the new information or its ramifications. Because of that odd bit of pacing, and the slim nature of this first book, I’m almost willing to bet this was originally one larger story broken in half for some reason. Lord knows I’ve seen a lot of YA and SF books that packed in five times the story in two or three times the length….
The bottom line is that Neptune’s Tears is a nice book that doesn’t live up to its potential. Waggoner delivers an acceptable blend of science fiction and young adult romance, but save for rare moments, she plays it mostly safe. The heroine is predictable, the aliens are about as human as you can get, the antagonists are never truly fleshed out, and a lot of details are barely hinted at. It’s the quick and easy school of worldbuilding: paint in broad strokes and let the readers fill in the blanks with their imaginations. This book could have been more complex, more challenging, more epic, more provocative…but in the end, it’s just another fairly standard romance wearing a science fiction hat, setting the stage for a sequel. And shouldn’t we demand more from our books, including the YA ones?
Neptune’s Tears is available June 25th from Henry Holt and Co.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Southwest VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who translates Geek-to-Mundane for him. He is the self-proclaimed High Pornomancer of the Golden Horde, and the editor of Scheherazade’s Façade. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf.