Wanderlust is the second book in Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax series (the first is called Grimspace). This was a pretty bipolar reading experience for me--I loved it, and I hated it.
Following the events of book one, the universe is under new control, and Jax is asked to serve as an ambassador to a planet of potentially hostile inhabitants, and convince them to join the Conglomerate for the sake of peace. Jax is joined by the crew of characters we became familiar with in Grimspace--Dina, Vel, Jax herself, and, of course, March. They're joined by a multitude of new characters along the way--Jael (a genetically engineered human), a pilot named Hit, and many more.
I love the characters. Jax is in a rough spot throughout most of the book, and you can really feel her pain as she works through everything. March is an incredibly interesting character with a lot of unexplored depth that I can see being revealed in this and future books. The relationship between the two of them is another issue entirely, but overall I still see them as a fitting couple. The rest of the cast is great, as well. I like all of the clever little developments that Aguirre manages to work in, including Jax's little PA 245 getting it's own personality and becoming a character in its (her) own right.
I love the action. Aquirre has a talent for keeping readers in the moment during the perilous parts. Fairly early on, our characters are trapped in a small space with a bunch of man eating spider creatures, and I was afraid for them at an almost heart-pounding level. I also love the space travel, and the way that jumping through space makes Jax feel. I love that sense of adventure and urgency that you get in these books.
Jax spends a lot of the book ill and feeling sorry for herself about it. Yeah, getting sick or injured is a reality. Yes, it's absolutely permissible to have unhealthy characters in your book. But when your heroine and narrator is too ill to fight or defend herself, is vividly aware of this fact, and uses it as an excuse to 1) pity herself, and 2) push away the man she loves, it turns into a downer of a book. I had a hard time cheering Jax on as she was forced to stay hidden or stay behind the more competent fighter. Yes, I know not every character has to be a viscous, combat-ready fighter. I just prefer, in this kind of book, to see strong heroines who fight for worthy causes and, most especially, fight for their man--literally or figuratively.
This brings me to the March/Jax relationship. As I said, Jax is sick and she pushes him away because of it. Then, just when it looks as though they'll move past that, certain events lead to a forced separation. I've been reading so many forced separations between established couples lately that it's almost starting to feel like a cliche to me. And I have to ask myself at this point, why do authors feel the need to do this? I understand that it's an easy way to create conflict, and conflict leads to relationship and character development. But overall, I happen to prefer the conflict that comes from trying to stay together against the odds. So yeah, the direction that I saw their relationship going in made me just a little unhappy, but maybe it wouldn't bother other readers as much.
Bottom line? There is absolutely nothing wrong with this book. It's a full story, with a great plot and lots of subplots. It's got all of the elements of a good space opera. I happened to dislike some of the choices that the author made with her characters. But I still really like the characters, I still like the series, and I'd still recommend it to most readers. 2.5 stars.