Angels in the Mist (Water Dragon Publishing), the first installment in Ryan Southwick’s The Z-Tech Chronicles trilogy, has enough intensity and inventiveness for three books all by itself. Brimming with elements of practically every genre including exhilarating action-adventure, riveting sci-fi, urban fantasy and breathtaking romance, Angels in the Mist surprises and satisfies with every hairpin turn. Each revelation proves to be only the tip of the iceberg, the pace moving at breakneck speed while pulling you in like quicksand. It’s a dynamic combination, lifted by characters displaying such spirit and stamina that they’re almost supernatural. The only way to find out whether they favor the angelic or demonic is to just read the next chapter and discover the next phenomenon.
Anne Perrin, a reclusive thirty-six-year-old waitress, is very single — and that’s the very least of her concerns. Anne suffers from extreme PTSD, the result of a traumatic incident in her childhood which left a wound so deep that it still hasn’t healed. Anne finds it hard to believe it ever will, and it means that she approaches everything in her life, especially dating, with extreme caution and dismally low expectations. After yet another missed opportunity, her protective but exasperated friend Doris gives Anne a hard enough time that Anne decides to take a leap of faith.
As soon as she lets her guard down, however, her nightmares become all too real, and her “date,” William, brutally attacks her. Anne narrowly escapes with her life thanks to a mysterious rescuer named Charlie. The two have a lot in common; Charlie, like Anne, hides secrets, and slowly draws her into his world of high-tech brilliance and unique friends with truly extraordinary capabilities. One new acquaintance, the lethal but lovable Zima, is especially captivating, which complicates Anne’s relationship with Charlie. Meanwhile, William is still on the loose, thirsty for Anne’s death and possessing the most terrible secret yet. Conquering this enemy will take all of Anne’s strength, Charlie’s intelligence, and Zima’s expertise (not to mention two more novels!).
Angels in the Mist is nothing if not ambitious. To enhance the rapid plot, Southwick constructs a detailed technological explanation that is both clever and imaginative. Nearly as much drama transpires from within the impenetrable confines of the Z-Tech headquarters as from the intense battles with ruthless outside villains. The author does an admirable job with his worldbuilding, especially when he’s weaving so many threads together to create something entirely new from a basis of both logic and lore. There’s a lot for our protagonists to keep track of and always another near-impossible problem to solve. It’s lucky that Anne’s new community is exceptional in a myriad of ways that I don’t dare spoil here.
Anne herself, meanwhile, does her best to rise to the task as a profoundly damaged but simultaneously “normal” individual. She must quickly learn new skills in combat, espionage and intelligence, leaving her comfort zone far behind. Her greatest challenge of all, of course, is the battle she fights with her private demons. Anne’s brave attempts to overcome her PTSD create unexpectedly poignant moments of truth, lifting the novel from pure action-adventure to a well-rounded story with plenty of fuel for a complete series. The juxtaposition between the more intimate, interpersonal components of the narrative and the considerable external threats makes for a simultaneously graceful and diverting read. Altogether, Angels in the Mist introduces you to fascinating characters in a mesmerizing universe well worth discovering.