on 2 December 2013
I am currently on the seventh book, and while I haven't (yet!) reviewed all the books I've read beforehand, I just had to say that "First Against the Wall" in the Administration series is THE BEST instalment of the story so far.
The story begins with Toreth lying cuffed in the dark, injured and wondering if the resisters are going to kill him. Despite the Administration's attempts to quell seditious activity, the resisters have somehow managed to infiltrate their once loyal ranks and slaughter a significant number of I&I personnel. Resisters just want the whole structure to change, to get rid of the so-called justice being meted out in cells where citizens are tortured into making confessions. For para-investigators like Toreth, it is merely a trial where the only clear outcome appears to be execution or running away before they hunt you down.
For me, the murky world in which the characters operate has been described in enough detail to satisfy the story and act as a general background, but I have always been waiting for something like this to happen, something far bigger than just the Administration getting its own way. In the sixth book, Francis develops a thrilling account of what Toreth and the others must go through to ensure their familiar world does not fall apart. To balance the practicality of Toreth is the more human perspective of Sara, whose traumatic experience of what was done at I&I demonstrates how important it is to survive, even if it means risking all you have to stay where you are. Francis writes fluently, logically, and her world springs to life in the only way mist can weave through a garden - I just enjoyed the atmosphere of the novel, even if I wished for something more from the world around me and the rest of the characters.
However, there is so much more to this series than simply getting down to the nitty-gritty details of building new worlds. Where previous stories have gently expanded on Toreth and Warrick's relationship, separating work (the novels) from play (the novellas; short stories), "First Against the Wall" takes a serious look at the fragility of Toreth and his fear of commitment. What is hinted throughout the series is now brought into the open rather viciously by someone who has nothing left to lose. In seeing the ordeal and the impact it is has on the precious little confidence which Toreth desperately grasps in the first place, we come to understand the depth of Toreth's fears and the extent to which they can destroy his trust and love for Warrick.
Despite thinking their relationship would break at the 'typical' points in any dramatic fiction (infidelity, staggering rudeness, and so on), Francis treats us instead to the 'traditional' manner in which all things can burn and come crashing down. Without spoiling the finale for anyone, I just want to say that she does it so, so well, and though I spent parts of this series not feeling much at all for one reason or another (not necessarily the author's fault, by the way), I suddenly found myself, at a certain moment, brimming with tears because I just got; I just got what Toreth was feeling at a fundamental level and I didn't even think that I ever would. It's like one of those movies you watch with complete apathy, only to turn on the waterworks because of one particular scene for no reason you can possibly explain. It's incredible, believe me.