Review: Chilling Effect, by Valerie Valdes

Russ Allbery eagle at
Mon Oct 9 21:21:59 PDT 2023

Chilling Effect
by Valerie Valdes

Series:    Chilling Effect #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Copyright: September 2019
Printing:  2020
ISBN:      0-06-287724-0
Format:    Kindle
Pages:     420

Chilling Effect is a space opera, kind of; more on the genre
classification in a moment. It is the first volume of a series,
although it reaches a reasonable conclusion on its own. It was Valerie
Valdes's first novel.

Captain Eva Innocente's line of work used to be less than lawful,
following in the footsteps of her father. She got out of that life and
got her own crew and ship. Now, the La Sirena Negra and its crew do
small transport jobs for just enough money to stay afloat. Or, maybe, a
bit less than that, when the recipient of a crate full of psychic
escape-artist cats goes bankrupt before she can deliver it and get
paid. It's a marginal and tenuous life, but at least she isn't doing
anything shady.

Then the Fridge kidnaps her sister.

The Fridge is a shadowy organization of extortionists whose modus
operandi is to kidnap a family member of their target, stuff them in
cryogenic suspension, and demand obedience lest the family member be
sold off as indentured labor after a few decades as a popsicle. Eva
will be given missions that she and her crew have to perform. If she
performs them well, she will pay off the price of her sister's release.
Eventually. Oh, and she's not allowed to tell anyone.

I found it hard to place the subgenre of this novel more specifically
than comedy-adventure. The technology fits space opera: there are
psychic cats, pilots who treat ships as extensions of their own body,
brain parasites, a random intergalactic warlord, and very few attempts
to explain anything with scientific principles. However, the stakes
aren't on the scale that space opera usually goes for. Eva and her crew
aren't going to topple governments or form rebellions. They're just
trying to survive in a galaxy full of abusive corporations, dodgy
clients, and the occasional alien who requires you to carry extensive
documentation to prove that you can't be hunted for meat.

It is also, as you might guess from that description, occasionally
funny. That part of the book didn't mesh for me. Eva is truly afraid
for her sister, and some of the events in the book are quite sinister,
but the antagonist is an organization called The Fridge that puts
people in fridges. Sexual harassment in a bar turns into obsessive
stalking by a crazed intergalactic warlord who frequently interrupts
the plot by randomly blasting things with his fleet, which felt like
something from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The stakes for Eva,
and her frustrations at being dragged back into a life she escaped,
felt too high for the wacky, comic descriptions of the problems she
gets into.

My biggest complaint, though, is that the plot is driven by people not
telling other people critical information they should know. Eva is
keeping major secrets from her crew for nearly the entire book. Other
people are also keeping information from Eva. There is a romance
subplot driven almost entirely by both parties refusing to talk to each
other about the existence of a romance subplot. For some people, this
is catnip, but it's one of my least favorite fictional tropes and I
found much of the book both frustrating and stressful. Fictional
characters keeping important secrets from each other apparently raises
my blood pressure.

One of the things I did like about this book is that Eva is Hispanic
and speaks like it. She resorts to Spanish frequently for curses,
untranslatable phrases, aphorisms, derogatory comments, and similar
types of emotional communication that don't feel right in a second
language. Most of the time one can figure out the meaning from context,
but Valdes doesn't feel obligated to hold the reader's hand and explain
everything. I liked that. I think this approach is more viable in these
days of ebook readers that can attempt translations on demand, and I
think it does a lot to make Eva feel like a real person.

I think the characters are the best part of this book, once one gets
past the frustration of their refusal to talk to each other. Eva and
the alien ship engineer get the most screen time, but Pink, Eva's
honest-to-a-fault friend, was probably my favorite character. I also
really enjoyed Min, the ship pilot who's primary goal is to be able to
jack into the ship and treat it as her body, and otherwise doesn't
particularly care about the rest of the plot as long as she gets paid.

A lot of books about ship crews like this one lean hard into found
family. This one felt more like a group of coworkers, with varying
degrees of friendship and level of interest in their shared endeavors,
but without the too-common shorthand of making the less-engaged crew
members either some type of villain or someone who needs to be drawn
out and turned into a best friend or love interest. It's okay for a job
to just be a job, even if it's one where you're around the same people
all the time. People who work on actual ships do it all the time.

This is a half-serious, half-comic action romp that turned out to not
be my thing, but I can see why others will enjoy it. Be prepared for a
whole lot of communication failures and an uneven emotional tone, but
if you're looking for a space-ships-and-aliens story that doesn't take
itself very seriously and has some vague YA vibes, this may work for

Followed by Prime Deceptions, although I didn't like this well enough
to read on.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-10-09


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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