REVIEW: Aftermath (Sirantha Jax, #5)

Aftermath - Ann Aguirre

***WARNING: This is more of a rant than a review, and contains some parts that people might consider SPOILERS.***

I must admit that, as much as I have been relentlessly plowing through this series, I was pretty nervous to start reading Aftermath. Based on the plot summary, I knew that this book was going to be more like Doubleblind (my least favorite book in the series) than the more action-centric books.

I wish I could say that this book proved my fears to be unfounded, but, in truth - it didn't.

I think the worst part about reading Aftermath is that, for the first time, I started actually disliking Sirantha Jax (the character). For the first four books I've been Jax's biggest fangirl, and after reading Grimspace I couldn't even fathom why some fans of the series had such a love/hate relationship with her. But now, I think I get it.

You see, Jax is pretty selfish. And I was more than willing to accept that as part of her character in Grimspace, when she did things like blasting Canton Farr without a thought to the well-being of Baby-Z, or like almost leaving March for dead. But by the time we get to Aftermath, all we hear about is how much Jax has changed since then - and, to be fair, she certainly has in the sense that she's willing to sacrifice herself for the people she loves or for the greater good, which is pretty significant. Yet, she's still emotionally selfish, and what's worse, there seems to be no accountability for it.

In fact, instead of accountability, she finds convenient redemption. Jax feels guilty about having blasted Baby-Z? No worries, we'll make a clone and bring him to Marakeq. Problem solved! She feels guilty about her past with Loras? It's all good, a brilliant doctor can easily make a cure for Loras and his people as long as she pays enough credits! I just feel like she never really earns redemption, but that it's just easily given to her by gracious writing.

And it's not just the convenience of it that makes her guilt sabbaticals so hard to swallow. It's that she also thinks things like:

"I want to do this for Loras to prove I’m not a selfish ass. And there’s some self-serving agenda tangled up in it, but doesn’t it matter more what you do rather than why?"

I don't know - maybe it's just me, but personally, I think the why is pretty damn important.

And, speaking of the cure for the La’hengrin, does she never once stop to think that creating a cure for them might actually be a bad idea? She wants to give a planet with a grudge against humanity the ability to be violent, and can't think of how that might possibly backfire? I have no idea what will happen in Endgame, and I'm sure that Aguirre will prevent the curing of the La’hengrin from having any dirty repercussions for Jax to feel guilty about - and I'm not even saying that wanting to cure an entire race of people is wrong, because it's not - but geez, can Jax for once just think something through, at least? She spent the first third of this book on trial for not thinking about the consequences of her brashness (I mean, even if she was too cowardly to trust March, I don't get why she couldn't have warned Tarn before she started changing the beacons to not let people jump, and why it had to wait until after - it's not like he'd have been able to stop her), and it's like she hasn't learned a damn thing from that. It's perfectly possible that the La’hengrin could use their new-found cure to attack humans as payback for what they did. How many people have to die before she learns her lesson?

In Aftermath, I felt like Jax's only redeemable moments were those she spent with Vel - ah, sweet, wonderful Vel. Somehow, Vel is the only person that Jax isn't completely selfish with, although to be honest, I think it's because he's so willing to bend to her wants. Vel is willing to go where Jax wants to go and do what Jax wants to do, with seemingly no other desires in the world except to act as a companion to Jax, so that makes it easy for her to not be selfish with him. So, I'm not sure that her treatment of Vel really holds much weight when dissecting her character.

Instead, compare her treatment of Vel with her treatment of March. Unlike Vel, March has obligations to keep him "dirtside," which completely clashes with Jax's dreams of adventuring in space. I think it's more than fair that Jax isn't willing to give up her dreams for March. She says:

"I won’t change my dreams to fit his needs, nor do I think he should do so for me. If we can’t find a median that makes us both happy, then— Well."

And, I couldn't agree with her more! Amen, sister. If she feels that strongly that she can't give up her future in space, then she should be selfish about it. My issue, though, is not that she's being selfish, but that once again, there's no accountability for it. Instead, she gets Vel willing to learn how to be a pilot so that he can accompany her, and March willing to wait for her for another 8 years (after his 5 years of previous waiting, making that 13 years waiting for Jax). Talk about having your cake and eating it too. We should all be so lucky.

And ugh, March. I didn't understand why he loved Jax so quickly and fiercely in the first book (aside from her "grit" and the fact that she was honest about her thoughts, I don't think it was every really explained), so I don't understand now why he's so willing to accept her selfish needs. It just makes him seem really pathetic . Jax thinks:

"Maybe it’s cold, but I cherish no attachment to his sister’s child ... Ever since I heard about the kid, I’ve had a bitter, stark feeling, and it’s not getting better."

I mean, how can you think that a woman who has such open disdain for a child of your own flesh and blood is worth your unfaltering love, is worth waiting for for 13 years? How do you not even resent her just the slightest bit for this?

Jax also thinks:

"I don’t doubt March still loves me, but I fear there might not be room for me in the new life he’s built."

And this is why Jax's selfishness annoys me - because not even she can hold herself accountable. There's room for her in the new life he's built, she just doesn't want any part of the new life he's built. It's not wrong that she doesn't want that life, but it's certainly wrong that she has the gall to portray herself as the wronged party in their relationship.

But in truth, I think that the Jax/March relationship has been the weakness of the entire Sirantha Jax series, and I really wish that Aguirre had just never gone down that path in the first place. It just makes both of their characters so unlikable . We are constantly being fed lines telling us how much these two looooooove each other, without much reason as to why, and with their actions completely contradicting this throughout most of the series. If these two end up together by the end of the series I'm sure I'll scream, but I can't imagine that that's not where Aguirre is going.

Vel is the one shining grace of this entire book. I loved reading about his past with Adele, and I just love him in general.

“To my mind, one thing does not lessen another. The heart is not a glass of water, but more like an endlessly pumping spring.”

Sweet, perfect Vel. Sirantha does not deserve you.

But Vel alone could not save this book for me, and I'm starting to wish I had just quit the series after Killbox. Now, I have only one book left, and I can't see how I can not read it, but I don't have any hope that I'll end up feeling satisfied by the conclusion of this series. I would love for Aguirre to surprise me and prove me wrong - I suppose we shall see!