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Rippler by Cidney Swanson is a pleasant first novel, surprising in its confidence straight out of the gate. Rather the load the opening down with fifty pages of info-dumps and telling, the novel opens mis-en-scene, with main protagonist Samantha not only utilizing her power - the ability to become invisible by "rippling" out of phase with the visible world around her - but in immediate peril because of it.

As the novel opens, Sam is on a whitewater rafting team-building outing with her cross-country team when her power suddenly activates, making her appear to disappear and setting the team into chaos because they think she went overboard. One teammate, Will, seems to understand that she's still there and whispers some advice, and helps her out of the tough situation.

It's a bold way to kick things off, because important things are happening right away, and you don't exactly know who they're happening to, or why. All of that gets filled in as the rest of the novel unfolds, of course, but for a first-time novelist to display such courage and self-confidence bodes well for Swanson.

Rippler is a paranormal romance, and fits neatly into the modern incarnation of that genre. Samantha's powers, it is explained, are actually a rare genetic disorder that is a mutation of another rare genetic disorder. The parent disorder merely causes unexplained numbness in limbs; Sam's condition goes a step further by causing her to ripple out of phase with the visible world around her.

It's an intriguing concept against which to build a mythology, and by combining it with the infamous Nazi science experiments on human test subjects, in World War II, there is a natural tapestry against which to draw villains.

Swanson demonstrates a flair for building and evolving character over the course of a narrative, and her pacing is steady and even-handed, and rarely overlooks the logical consequences of character actions.

For example, as Sam is learning how to control her powers, she makes a mistake when "phasing back" into the visible world and inadvertently causes some property damage to a wall.

In more careless hands, such an incident would be taken for granted, but Swanson follows through on the logical consequences of this property damage and much of the character development that follows in Sam's relationship with at least two other characters, flows from this seemingly mundane event that, in a Spider-Man story, wouldn't even be considered. Swanson's attention to detail and a logical flow of events is therefore a welcome addition to the paranormal romance genre.

Of course, the novel is not without weaknesses.

The most glaring problem with Rippler is related to both length and pacing. While the pacing of the story has a natural, unhurried feel, the novel ends just as all the pieces get put on the table.

This is not atypical, unfortunately, of the modern paranormal romance series genre; the first novel is spent introducing and establishing character, while the actual plot isn't introduced until later novels. It's a pattern established most clearly and popularly by Stephanie Meyer; her Twilight series of books contained virtually no discernible plot in the first two books, or at least none of any major impact. The real "story" of Twilight didn't pick up until the final two books.

The cultural influence of Twilight has "rippled" throughout the genre ever since. And while it's not clear whether Meyer is a direct influence on Swanson, she has structured her first novel in a similar way.

Rippler introduces villains, but there's very little in the way of major confrontations. Rippler introduces allies, but those alliances face few major tests. The groundwork for bigger conflicts and confrontations is laid, set in motion, and just as one expects that something significant is about to happen... the novel ends.

Now, please keep in mind, this is in no way an indicator that Rippler is an unpleasant read. The prose bubbles along nicely, and those events which do happen are genuinely interesting.

What is problematic is that it's just not a complete story in and of itself. It's like sitting down in a theater and, about forty minutes in, the actors come out on stage for a curtain call. "Show's over," they said. "We're only performing Act One."

Is this a method for causing readers to want more? Perhaps. It's a method many in this genre employ, and I am not opposed to cliffhangers or the idea that this novel is the first installment in a series.

Even so, how would readers have felt if Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone had wrapped up, I don't know... shortly after Harry is assigned to Gryffindor and plays his first Quidditch match? Or, to go back in time a bit, what of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew had books that introduced a mystery, but didn't solve it until the next installment or two down the line.

Now, in fairness, this is not something that should reflect solely on Swanson. This is how most paranormal romance series are written these days; it's a conceit of the genre. Unfortunately so, because it leaves a reader feeling a bit unsatisfied, I think.

If a lesser writer had crafted Rippler, that "it's over after Act One" feel of the book would rankle a person more significantly. However, Swanson's charm in building her cast of characters is handled with enough grace that the incomplete feel of the plot is more forgivable.

Will I come back for Ripple Book 2? Yes, because at the end of the novel, I find myself invested in Samantha, Will, Mickie, Syl and the rest of the characters introduced here. And frankly, I want to see what the villains introduced are capable of.

But personally, I'd have felt just a bit happier, just a bit more satisfied, if Rippler had been longer, and had more of a series-opening conflict. There's a great beginning here, and a well-developed middle. But even an installment in a series of novels needs, I think, just a bit more sense of resolution.

Perhaps the second installment will deliver on that count. I certainly expect good things, given all the fine skills on display. Keeping in mind this is a first novel, I'm sure the next one from such a confident, poised writer will deliver the goods next time at an even more satisfying level.
 

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Very thoughtful review! I like your analysis of not just the book itself, but the paranormal field. I don't mind long story arcs, so possibly I don't have as much problem with establishing setting and character. Of course, I am used to reading epic fantasy, and compared to that, it doesn't seem like paranormals spend much time on world-building at all. How much of the main plot really took place in the first Wheel of Time book?
 
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