I have a deep-seated fear of nuclear disaster. If you made a list of Things that Freak Kelly Out, it’d be right up there. I can’t help it — I’m a product of my times. The Chernobyl disaster occurred when I was a child, and I knew just enough about nuclear meltdown to know that it was bad. Really bad. I still remember being sure — but being too afraid to ask and confirm my guess — that the reactor would just keep burning until it destroyed the whole world. When I was older, I learned what radiation could do to a person who wasn’t killed outright, and if anything, that was even more horrifying. I watched large portions of K-19: The Widowmaker with my eyes closed.
So why am I telling you all this? Because when I say that Alayna Williams has written a book that scared the bejabbers out of me (and not in the fun sort of way) and yet made me like it anyway, I want you to know I mean it.
Tara, the tarot-card reading criminal profiler we met in Dark Oracle, here applies her talents to the disappearance of several U.S. spies of the Cold War era, all of whom were involved in a project concerning unsecured nuclear material. She learns that the mystery has its roots in the Chernobyl disaster and that she needs to solve it before a worse calamity is unleashed upon the world. Williams describes many of the real-world effects of the disaster (hence the bejabbers-scaring) and creates one character who was affected by the radiation in a different, more paranormal manner. There’s a great deal of horror, tragedy, and repulsive imagery, and a villain whose acts are unconscionable but whom one can’t help but pity.
Subplots deal with her tenuous relationship with Harry Li, whose job stress has him on the verge of cracking, and on Cassie Magnusson, who is undergoing her training in Delphi’s Daughters. (Additionally, we get a better glimpse of why Tara despises the Pythia so; we learn more about the way she manipulates people for what she perceives to be the greater good.)
Readers who enjoyed the mix of mysticism and science in Dark Oracle will find another good story here. Rogue Oracle may freak you out, gross you out, or both — but even if it does, the compelling plot and the evolving characters make it worth continuing.