Tainted represents a switch in genres for fantasy author Morgan Busse. The book is a steampunk adventure with fantasy elements, making it very different from the high fantasy of her last series, Follower of the Word.
Tainted is the story of a young woman named Kathryn Bloodmayne, who is eager to attend the prestigious school commonly called “The Tower” as part of a new initiative to allow young women into the ranks of the scientific leadership of World City, where Kathryn lives. Despite some hiccups, Kathryn seems to be doing fine, until an unsettling and horrible power that she long kept at bay and secret comes burning forth and makes her a fugitive from those who would misuse her powers. All she wants is a cure and desperately pursues a lead with the help of a bounty hunter that she isn’t even sure she can trust.
Tainted was a fun ride that suffered a bit from two issues. First, it never really gives a payoff for the beginning plot of the enrollment in the Tower. It was merely added backstory, which is fine, but I would have personally liked to see more of her time at the school. The other issue was how the action seemed to jump around between plot devices. Is it a magic type of fantasy? A quest? A heist story? What?
Despite the above two criticisms, this story was really engrossing. The characters were in the style I have come to love from Busse: very real with real insecurities, issues and who made real mistakes. One can easily see themselves in the characters. Yet they also really had (at least the good guys had) senses of morality and tried to do the right thing.
Both leads, Kat and Stephen (the bounty hunter) made mistakes in the novel, but both try to do right in the end, even though it will be hard. I think that’s a lesson we all can learn, to try to do right and to not get bogged down in the reality of our (sometimes quite sizable) mistakes.
The other lesson I saw in the novel was an area that one can connect with the characters as well, especially Stephen. That is the area of thinking and praying about choices we make to ensure they are not just the right choices, but the right choices for the right reasons. You see, sometimes what seems like the right action might not be, or might be something we are doing for the wrong reason. If we think and pray more, we might come to a different conclusion.
Those who have read the Follower of the Word series know that they can expect the evil guys to be evil, yet also sympathetic. One evil man is sympathetic for his injuries, and another man for his backstory. But these do not excuse their crimes, especially the latter, and like Darth Vader and I suspect Kylo Ren (if he is redeemed), I think death is the natural culmination of any redemption arc.
I have seen some flack given to Morgan Busse for showing the actualities of human desire and lust. Even though the characters do the right thing in the end, Busse has been attacked for addressing these issues of temptation and triumphing over them. I can’t disagree more with her critics, and I find the realism and the show of struggle with, and triumph over, improper sexual desire to be refreshing.
I really enjoyed this work and can’t recommend it enough.
Rating: 4/5 stars.