Threadbare by Elle E. Ire is a steamy sci-fi action romance. Or maybe a romantic action flick? It doesn’t really matter; either way, Threadbare is packed with action of various kinds, from hostage-rescue and bar brawls to lovers’ quarrels and tense introductions of your cyborg partner to your parents.
Vick Corren is a mercenary grunt who doesn’t get to quit her job no matter what—not even by dying. When she is accidentally killed during a military drill, the company she works for—Fighting Storm—resurrects her by replacing much of her body and brain with machinery. The price of a new life?—her freedom. Vick is renamed VC1, and officially categorized as property of Fighting Storm. There is only one issue, however. Having 63% of her brain replaced with cybernetic implants, Vick Corren goes insane.
Kelly LaSalle is sheltered, comes from money, and is fresh out of education. She is also an empath, able to sense and feel other people’s emotions, and to channel them through herself. That’s why she is approached by Fighting Storm: to act as a stabilizer and handler for the unstable VC1. Kelly is talented, shrewd, and intrigued by the job. The one complication neither she nor the company expected, however, is that she bonds closely with her partner. Worse still, Vick and Kelly fall in love.
Beside the more obvious complications arising from a relationship between coworkers—especially in their line of work—the empathic bond between Kelly and Vick threatens the emotional stability of both. It’s worse for Vick, as her sanity quite literally hangs by a thread, and she is completely emotionally unhinged for a good part of the story. But things are far from easy for Kelly, whose function as a channel and stabilizer exposes her to all the violence of Vick’s emotions. When Vick kills a person in front of Kelly during a mission, the emotional fallout threatens to leave Kelly catatonic, and the threads of Vick’s sanity are frayed. Can the two overcome the dangers of their mission, and grow stable and resilient, or will the intensity of their bond tear them both apart?
Writing and Story
The underlying skeleton of the story, is a sci-fi action-thriller, but the meat and heart of Threadbare lie in the characters of Vick and Kelly, and the dynamic relationship between them. The premise of a cybernetic soldier with limited free will is a common trope in cyberpunk and sci-fi fiction, from Robocop and Ghost in the Shell in the 80s and 90s, to the contemporary examples such as Marvel’s The Winter Soldier. Threadbare, though, puts an interesting spin (ha-ha) on it by introducing the role of an empathic partner who aids the cyborg in holding on to their sanity and humanity.
Overarching plot of the novel—the hostage situations, the betrayals within the organization, etc.—follow familiar scripts and tropes of thriller and action genres, but while that means there are few surprises, there is something to be commended about straight-up genre pieces, and the comfort of the familiar. Threadbare might have used a few dozen additional pages to further develop some characters and relationships, but given that this is only the first installment of a series, such flaws can be more easily overlooked.
Ire’s style is solid, doing the job of carrying both the high-adrenaline action and the emotional devastation impacting the protagonists. Both Kelly and Vick have distinct voices and layered personalities, and the structural elements of the story, with a back-and-forth between POV characters and timelines, adds to the tension and intrigue permeating the story. This is an adult-grade novel, it needs to be pointed out, so there is quite a bit of erotic elements infused into the book, with one very hot sex scene. It’s empath sex, so go figure.
Where Threadbare shines the most are its two protagonists and their relationship. Alternating timelines are used to great effect to develop both characters, contrasting Vick’s psychological and emotional states, and ultimately creating tension between the two partners. Their chemistry is tangible, brimming under the surface for a while, then erupting into passion, anger, fear, sorrow. Another highlight of the novel are its action scenes, all well-choreographed and utilizing the empathic link between Vick and Kelly to heighten the stakes.
The attention given to the protagonists unfortunately means that most of the secondary characters are scantly developed. The antagonists are given basic, even clichéd motivations for their actions. There are some foundations laid for potential further development of certain coworkers of Vick and Kelly, but within Threadbare they are still, well, barely sketched. Same goes for world-building, which only really developed the function of empaths in the new, interstellar society.
One last complaint, and a major content warning, is a scene of sexual assault which happens towards the end of the novel. I am not against explicit depictions of assault in fiction, but, just like any other type of scene, it must be utilized towards wider purposes of character development. This one did not quite achieve that for me.
Ultimately, Threadbare’s flaws are forgivable, especially in light of it being the first part of a series. Whether you are looking for some action with lasers and robots, a military thriller, or a very hot romance featuring the best kind of lesbian tendency to fuse together, Threadbare has something for you. The fast-paced action and the heightened emotional states of both heroines will keep you turning pages. Just make sure not to hold your breath for too long!
Excerpt from Threadbare by Elle E. Ire
My senses ran on high, walls down, open to everything. In one farmhouse I passed, people argued. The owners of the tourist-trap gas station emitted greed. Reds and browns made it hard to see the road. Sickness filled another home—summer flu—and I choked on a mouthful of bile, spitting it out to the side. I could have crashed, operating a vehicle like that. I broke every rule, ignoring everything the Academy had taught me, including common sense.
I flew a couple of miles and downshifted to change course, try another direction, when I felt Vick. Her emotions slammed into me before I saw her—disappointment, self-loathing, resignation. There was no time to get my walls up, and I wrenched the handlebars hard to the right, nearly flipping the bike before I regained control of both it and me.
Reducing speed, I eased forward, and she came into view, shoulders hunched against the rain, dark hair dripping down her back, her duffel thrown over one shoulder. I pulled up and turned sharp, cutting her off. The bike settled to the ground. I tossed my helmet to the side, swung off the seat, and stood in front of her, hands on my hips.
“You,” I said, “are an idiot.”
Vick stared at me for a long moment, expression unreadable. Then she nodded slowly. “Wouldn’t be the first time.” I realized with a sudden start that she turned off her suppressors. They were supposed to be off, but under the circumstances I figured she would have used them. No, she wanted me to find her, or at least hoped I would, if I cared enough. “Probably won’t be the last,” she added with a half grin.
One step, two, and then I embraced her, and the water running down my face wasn’t just rain—which stopped at last, fading into a drizzly mist. She was all right. I shoved away images of her, broken and bloody—memories of when we’d first met.
“You shouldn’t have left. I needed to clear a few things up with my mother. That’s all.” I pressed against her soaking wet uniform. Her arms closed around my shoulders.
“I’ve lost my family, assuming I ever had one to begin with. Didn’t want to screw things between you and yours.”
“You’re part of my family,” I told her. “When I’m away from home, you’re the only family I have.”
Get It Online
When you use the links in this review and buy within 24 hours of clicking then we get a small commission that helps us run the site and it costs you nothing extra
Series: Storm Fronts
Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 9781644053652
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
If you enjoyed Threadbare by Elle E. Ire then you should also look at
Note: I received a free review copy of Threadbare by Elle E. Ire No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site