Author: Eve Kenin
Genre: Futuristic Romance – Dorchester’s Shomi Line.
Stand Alone/ Series: It can be read as a stand-alone but the book has a sequel that is set in the same world.
Summary: Raina Bowen knows she can handle herself just fine against anything the harsh Northern Waste throws at her. Until it throws her an enigmatic stranger called Wizard. First, she has to haul him out of a brawl he can’t hope to win. And next, her libido is shooting into overdrive at the feel of his hard body pressed against hers on the back of her snowscooter. But there’s something not quite right about this guy. Before she can strip bare Wizard’s secrets, they’re lured into a race for their lives, battling rival truckers, ice pirates…and a merciless maniac with a very personal vendetta.
Why did we read the book: We have seen plenty of raving reviews and we were curious about these Shomi books.
Ana: I was really excited about reading Driven. There are so many positive reviews out there and after reading Razor Girl by Marianne Mancusi, I was ready to read more of the Shomi line. Driven did not disappoint – I devoured the book in one go and loved the romance between Raina and Wizard. I had a few minor problems but they did not prevent me from enjoying the story- which I did, quite a lot actually.
Thea: This book was a whole world of meh for me. I felt the premise for Driven was intriguing–destroyed by nuclear war, the northern hemisphere is plunged into frigid winter. Unfortunately, that’s about all the book had going for it. I think there were some good ideas in this book, but the problem was in the execution of those ideas. The biggest problem for me was in the many plot and character contradictions riddled throughout the book: characters forgot or contradicted actions that had transpired just a few pages earlier and certain plot points verged on the ridiculous. The most enticing part of this novel was the romance storyline, and yet even that felt very paint-by-numbers. It is a shame since I really did want to like this book given the great reviews it has received across blogland. Alas. I struggled through this book from beginning to end.
On a positive note, I think the cover is really cool. I like the eye catching SHOMI line artwork and marketing team.
On the Plot: In a bleak, futuristic world, loner Raina Bowen is a truck driver crossing the frozen lands of the North Waste. A fugitive of justice wrongly accused of murdering her father, Raina dreams of living in peace in warmer lands and to be able to take care of the sister she never knew she had until her father died.
Her mission is to win the truck race across the highway controlled by the Janson – a transport company who pays top bucks to the first person who delivers the grain cargo to isolated communities. Part of her plan to win the race is to get a license from a guy named Wizard that would allow her to jump the line in the highway.
But as soon as she meets this mysterious, cold Wizard, a truckload of problems ensues: not only he doesn’t have the promised license but he also has connections with the rebels that fight the Janson – and who ends up clarifying that she is transporting weapons and not grains as she thought.
Raina ends up changing her plans and on their road trip to meet the rebels they face Ice Pirates, the Janson and its owner, psychopath Duncan Bane who has a connection to both Raina and Wizard, who seems to have his own hidden agenda.
When they finally reach the rebel camp both Raina and Wizard have plenty of soul searching to do and some life changing decisions to make.
Ana: The premise was interesting, albeit not a particularly original one – a frozen world where people have to survive a inhospitable environment and fight for freedom; some of the particulars were very cool – the presence of the Janson , the fact that Raina for example lived in a full-equipped truck with everything she could want – TV, a shower that had a built-in drier – and the action sequences which I thought were gripping.
I have read some reviews raving about the world building and the setting – they do provide an atmosphere to the story but the best thing about Driven, to me, was the development of the romantic relationship between Raina and Wizard. One of my favorite romance plotlines is that of the protagonists who avoid emotions and close relationships only to be completely taken off guard when they meet each other. I thought this was especially well played in Driven: Wizard, who is pretty much a machine and had very few emotions and had no need, up to that point, to allow emotions to exist inside of him and Raina who was fully human but avoided emotion and attachment like the plague – to protect herself and others. To watch these two falling for each other – slowly (which is always good in my books) and to discover emotions together was amazing.
Having said that, I had a few issues with the book with regards to the details or rather, the lack of. For example, when Wizard re-engineers Raina’s truck to run on water – ok. No problem with that but how exactly did he do it? It can not be all that easy and even though Wizard is supposed to be almost a machine with enhanced skills and serious computer mojo, I thought this was just an easy way of explaining things. “Let’s put it all down to the fact that he can do pretty much anything” . Speaking of Wizard and what he was – which was WHAT exactly? I get that he is human and was raised by an AI computer and because of that he is almost like a machine himself…but why? Is that all what it takes to remove all emotion from a human being? To be raised by a computer and then to be beaten up until he couldn’t feel? Even though this idea is interesting and in the realm of possibility, it still begs for debate on “what makes a human being”. I thought the execution of that particular plotline in the book fell short – it could have been used better and I felt deprived of further explanation on the “hows”.
Also, I have to say that something that annoyed me to no end was the repetition of some sentences – over and over again. Raina kept telling herself that Wizard was a “worthless trucker”. She was in denial. Acknowledged. Or the use of “frigg”. They can use slang. Understood. Or the use of Raina’s favorite expletive: “Of all the morons in the frozen north” – I have no problems with the use of these expressions, they are even rather cool but it is just the endless, pointless repetition that annoys.
Still, to be completely honest? NONE of this really mattered to me as I was reading the novel. I only thought of most of these afterwards. My point being: I had a great time reading the book and sometimes that is all that matters.
Thea: As I said above, the premise for this story is one that caught my eye. I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic tales, be it of the zombie or deadly plague Captain Trips variety (and all those other disaster scenarios in between). I liked the idea of the futuristic Northern Waste setting and the importance of the lone Highway, as well as the role of Janson Trucking as the monopoly-policeman-bullies of the road. The Janson fleet, controlled by Big Bad Boss Duncan Bane, is a formidable presence in the Waste–the fleet is large, efficient, and kills any unauthorized opposition. Raina, our intrepid heroine, is on a mission to deliver a shipment of New Government Order grain to the Gladow station in the North. Delivery of the grain shipments is actually a competition–the first rig to deliver their share to the northern station will win fifty million interdollars. Raina’s fixation on the prize is due to the fact she has discovered she has a little sister named Beth out there somewhere, and she needs the money to send her to school. Wizard factors in as Raina’s contact, who is supposed to bring her legit passes to “jump the line” on the highway (so she can reach her destination faster). Wizard shows up late and with a heap of Janson rigs pissed off at him, and Raina swoops in to save him. Together, they have to deal with angry Janson drivers, Reevers/Ice Pirates, and a full scale Rebellion against the Evil New Government Order/Duncan Bane.
So, here’s where my plotting problems come in. Please be forewarned, there are slight spoilers below!
First of all, I had an incredibly hard time swallowing a major plot point regarding the “race”. As it turns out, the crates of “grain” are actually crates of guns. Hi-tech, high-cost guns, plasma rays, charges, etc. Raina figures this out about halfway through the novel, and then deduces that the guns are going to Reevers (aka Ice Pirates), who terrorize and pillage the small settlements in the snowy wastelands. This was a major sticking point–why would the government and/or Banes just give away crates and crates of valuable weapons to unregistered/unknown drivers?!? What’s to say someone else wouldn’t figure out that the crates are not grain, and then sell off the weapons to the highest bidder out there!??! I’m fine with the Evil NGO/Duncan Bane sponsoring the pirates, but we never hear what PURPOSE this serves. Just to cause chaos? To dismantle their own government order? It seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Furthermore, why would anyone trust such precious cargo in the hands of unknown truck drivers when–hello!–the most formidable force in the Northern Wastes, Janson Transport, is at Bane’s beck and call????
Then there’s the actual entities of the NGO and Bane’s Janson service. We read the names but do not really know nor do we LEARN anything about either entity. The NGO is the governing body of the…Future Canada? USA? The World? And it is a nebulous unseen force that apparently sponsors its own destruction. How did it come to be? What power does it have? What the “FRIG” does it govern? I have no idea! These concepts are completely ignored in the story. Duncan Bane is the Eeeevil Emperor presiding over his Wintery Eeeevil Empire in the north, but his relationship to the NGO is also completely untouched other than knowing he’s an advisor to the president.
Beyond this the government and Bane, Ms. Kenin never gives us any insight into her world. We know that at some point there was a nuclear war (called The Noble War), but who exactly was fighting, who the victors are, why were they fighting, what impact this had on the world besides making the North really snowy, all of this is untouched! We learn about two laws were passed and apparently that SARS and AIDS wiped out most of the world population…but this comes in the form of a contrived data dump (i.e. “Are you familiar with the physiology of the human immune response? Specific resistance?…You recall the pandemic diseases of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries…AIDS. SARS. Ebola. Asian bird flu…MOFS. Multiple organ failure syndrome…” Raina nodded. “That killed my grandmother. Those diseases wiped out half the world’s population before they were eradicated.”)
Needless to say, the world building was completely lackluster.
Then, there’s the problem of continuity (in my opinion, the biggest problem with this novel). For example, Raina and the Wiz are driving along the I-Pole, being chased by Reevers who are trying to blow up Raina’s rig. Wiz tells Raina to turn off all her lights to try and lose them–Raina acquiesces. The Wiz proceeds to direct her in the dark on what sharp turns to make, when to accelerate and when to stop, clearly indicating that the Wiz can see in the dark. Then, not two pages later Raina is yelling at Wiz in the pitch black thinking: “With Herculean effort, she restrained herself, balling her hands into fists, wishing that it weren’t so damn dark and that she could see Wizard. That she could let him see her, let him read exactly what she though of him in her eyes.” …It has just been established that Wizard can see in the dark.
Or how about the time when Raina realizes that OMG! Wizard is a mercenary ASSASSIN! He never needed my help at the truck stop!
Allow me to elaborate. Earlier in the story, Wizard managed to hit a trip wire with a NINJA STAR from 5 “yuales” away–I’m assuming a “yuale” is a mile or a kilometer, based on the use of the term in the book. He hits a teeny tiny speck from FIVE MILES AWAY. WITH A NINJA STAR.
And Raina only realizes he’s a mercenary assassin 50 pages later. Because he has to spell it out to her (“In my line of work, short-range weapons are key”).
**On another note, I have no idea why “yuales” were chosen to replace whatever distance measurement system was in place. This is not explained to the reader in the slightest. WHY would distance have been changed to some arbitrary new measurement? Your guess is as good as mine**
Then there are the other assorted plot point problems: in a manner of minutes, Wizard manages to re-engineer Raina’s truck so that it runs on water as opposed to hydrogen. Wizard can pick any lock and bypass any security system known to man–in mere seconds. And so on, and so forth.
And THEN it becomes known that Wizard has been on a supersecret mission from the Rebel Alliance and has been using Raina this entire time as a way to draw out Duncan Banes–never mind that whole initial sequence when Wizard was surprised that Raina was his contact and not her father.
I’m not even getting into the detailed spoilers at the climax of the story, involving blood transfusions, and the ultimate showdown with Duncan Banes. Who–appropriately eeeeeevilly–wears an eye patch.
On the Characters:
Ana: Raina is a very strong protagonist and immensely likeable. She was a loner, fully capable of taking care and defending herself, including in face-to-face combat. I love it when a truly kick-ass heroine remains kick-ass and doesn’t become a mellow version of herself just because she falls in love. Kudos to Eve Kenin for that.
As for Wizard, it was really great to follow his path towards being a rounded human being – from the start where it’s clear he has already some cracks in the compartments in his mind because he has some feelings for his sisters and he has a honour system – he may be an assassin but by Jove, he is a honourable one! (Hummm that came out more sarcastically than intended). Until he feels fear for another being’s life for the first time – for Raina and the compartmentalisation of his brains starts crumbing down and feelings take over everywhere.
It was such a journey for both of them to find the long lost emotions and bring them back into their lives. Raina by opening herself to let other people getting close – the rebels, the orphans and Wizard. And Wizard for starting to look at himself as the human being that he is and NOT a machine.
The villain was way WAY villainous without any reason behind his evilness. BUT it was very clear that he was a psychopath. And as much as I prefer to read fleshed-out villains who are capable of rationalising their actions, a psychopath is a psychopath and there is no reasoning whatsoever behind his evilness. It just is. And I am cool with that.
Thea: Driven is at least consistent in its inconsistency–the characters do not emerge unscathed.
Raina is a badass, but one with a heart of gold. She has grown up with an alcoholic father who would beat her until she learned her lesson. She also has just recently discovered she has a younger sister out there named Beth, who she must SEND TO SCHOOL! It’s the only way to provide for her. Raina also has a soft spot for orphans. How do I know all these things? Because she repeats this thought over and over and over again: Raina loved orphans. She had grown up in the wastes scrounging for food. She had felt incredible pain. Just like the pain orphans were feeling. She must take care of orphans so they will never feel the pain she had felt as a child.
There was no…finesse to the writing in this novel. Everything is laid out plainly, telling and not showing. Raina felt this. Raina felt that. “If you let someone get close, they took things you didn’t want to give. Or they died. Like Mama. Like Sam.”
That’s not to say that Raina was all bad though–at two points in the story she makes the decision to fight, putting herself in the line of fire, and I like that ballsy attitude. I also appreciated that Wizard didn’t try to swoop in and “save” her in the first instance. That was something refreshingly different, and I applaud this effort.
And then, there’s Wizard. First off–his name is Wizard. Really? WIZARD? Yes there’s an explanation for his name near the end of the story, but that doesn’t change the fact that his name is Wizard.
Wizard is a human computer–he is a genetically engineered human being, but was raised by an AI computer. Thus, Wizard and his two sisters had grown up compartmentalizing emotions, processing probabilities, and making all decisions based on logic. We are introduced to le Wiz’s personality malfunction early in the novel, when he thinks about how unnatural it is to smile and how he is still practicing this strange thing called “humor”. This is all fine and good, except when Wizard speaks, his voice is like a really really bad sci-fi script from the 1950s. For example: “My rig runs off water,” he reiterated. “Input H20. Utilize energy from solar source to split hydrogen. Pump it through the fuel cell. Easy.”
And then there are the complete lapses when he is not thinking or speaking like a robot at at all! Consider the difference from the passage above and the following passage (keep in mind this passage is on pg 64 before his emotions have been ‘awakened’ by Raina): “He knew what that hair smelled like. He’d lain in the dark, wrapped in her scent. He’d sat in the seat beside her, attuned to each beat of her heart, the soft sound of each breath she took.”
What? This poetic thought process is what the human computer thinks? Mmm, not buying it. Later in the novel, I really did appreciate Wizard’s inner dialogue, and his first ever stirrings of fear–not for himself, but for Raina. But the glaring inconsistencies of the character are very off-putting.
The most appealing part of this book for me was the romance aspect with Raina and Wizard. However, even the romance felt pretty thin. I jokingly tell Ana that if in the first chapter of a book I read mentions of “rippling heat” or “shivering spines”, chances are, I’m probably not gonna be into the book. This is just how Driven begins, with Raina “shivering” and “tingling” when she first hears Wizard’s voice. Then there’s a lot of “frigging dumb as dirt waste-trash!” loathing Raina repeats incessantly while simultaneously marvelling at Wizard’s muscly, black hair dusted forearms and revelling in the male scent of him. Then there’s Wizard–inconsistent as “frig” in terms of his mental processes–revelling in Raina’s scent and the fall of her blonde hair while trying to compartmentalize his emotions like the good human robot he is. This goes on for 250 pages. When they FINALLY hook up, it’s a welcome relief–especially since I wasn’t sure how many more descriptive romance cliches I could take.
That said, I did like seeing both characters struggle with their feelings for each other. At least this felt genuine, and believable.
I won’t say much about the uber-villain, Ducan Bane. Suffice to say, he is completely two dimensional. Flat as a sheet of paper, EEEEEVIL for EEEEEVIL’s sake!
Final Observations, Recommendations and Rating:
Ana: Driven may have its problems but the romance between Raina and Wizard was a pleasure to read about. In a week stocked full with mediocre reads, Driven was my light at the end of the tunnel. I read it on the same day I watched Pineapple Express and I enjoyed both immensely – as long as I don’t dwell too much on details. I already bought its sequel, Hidden and can’t wait to read it!
Thea: You may be wondering what the ‘frig’ is up with me saying ‘frig’ all the time. This is a phrase repeated endlessly in the novel. I’d be interested in a ‘frig’ count. It’s ‘frigging’ annoying!
So…clearly, I was not a big Driven fan. There were parts of this story that I enjoyed, and I do think that the concept was a good one–but the inconsistent characters, the plot contradictions and the flat writing failed to execute the good ideas behind the story. I know that this was supposed to be a mindless entertainment book, but it was a struggle to finish it, let alone be entertained. I’m afraid I won’t be tuning in for the next installment.
I will, however, be trying other SHOMI titles–hopefully with more success.
Notable quotes/ Parts:
Ana: I loved the part when she realises that he was not a normal guy and that she needed and wanted romance and she tells him that. And he says:
“Romance. Compliments. Gifts. Understood. “
and then he proceeds to compliment her:
“Raina….(…) your eyes are appropriately spaced”, he whispered.
“and your ears are proportional to your face. The collagen fibbers of your integument have maintained a wrinkle-free and youthful appearance.” He looked at her earnestly. “compliments”.
“ummmm” She frowned. “my integument?”
“tomorrow I will order you a set of titanium body armour. Lightweight and impenetrable”. The corners of his mouth kicked up just a bit, and he looked incredibly pleased with himself, “Gifts”.
I thought this part was both funny and sweet.
Thea: I think I have quoted enough for the day. No mas!
Ana: Oh boy, was this book difficult to rate. I read it so fast, enjoyed it so much, as soon as I was done, I thought I was on a solid 7 frame of mind. Then, I started to think about some of the plot holes, some of the problems I had with the writing, then it went down to a 6. Then, I discussed it with Thea -BIG MISTAKE– I agreed with many of her points and considered going down to a 4. Then I decided to regroup, thought about it a little longer and considering my first reaction, considering that none of these problems in any way detracted from my enjoyment of the novel, but still comparing it with other futuristic romance (i.e. Nalini Singh), I am going to stick to my guns and give it a 6.
So there you have it: 6, Good.
Thea: This is tough for me too. If I had to grade this as a romance novel on its own, I’d say a 5. My reading experience with Driven actually ranks somewhere around a 3. So…I’ll take the middle and go with a: 4 Bad, but not without some merit
Reading next: Powerpuff Girls review King of Sword and Sky by C.L. Wilson!