Review: The Fear Principle by B.A. Chepaitis

The Fear Principle
B.A. Chepaitis

Wildside Press (1998)
192 pages
Action / Sci-Fi

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As part of an up-coming blog tour for BA Chepaitis’ fifth book in her Jaguar Addams series, The Green Memory of Fear, the author and Pump Up Your Book asked if I’d be willing to review the entire Jaguar Addams series. After hearing that it was about an empath on another world being used as a prison to rehabilitate prisoners using fear after a catastrophic incident had decimated the world’s population, I thought it could be a fun series to try out. So for the next five Thursdays, I’ll be reviewing each of the books in the series with BA Chepaitis stopping by on Wednesday, April 25, for a guest post about the series. After reading The Fear Principle, I’m very excited about this entire series.

The Fear Principle starts out some time in a distant future where a couple of “planetoids” have been discovered and converted into replica cities where prisoners are shipped off for rehabilitation. About ten years before, a mass hysteria raged through the general populace during what has come to be referred to as The Killing Times. Homicidal tendencies seemed to become contagious and much of the population was killed through an epidemic of serial murders. This was the atmosphere that Dr. Jaguar Addams grew up in with her grandparents in New York City. After surviving for years on her own, she’d gone to school and found herself on Planetoid Three where she uses her empathic skills to confront criminals with their deepest fears in hopes of helping them become suitable citizens again.

Jaguar Addams is a pretty cool lady. She’s young and guys like to fall at her feet, but with the noir-like feel to this book, it worked. She’s of Native American descent and strongly believes in guidance from spirits and maintaining rituals to live a healthy life. She’s a little off the rails, not following rules and regularly butting heads with those around her, but her sometimes misguided tactics usually work and are always under the best of intentions. She finds herself in the middle of two cases, one pretty started rehabilitation of a con man who used to sell placebo medications to patients dying of a fatal disease or “pedaling false hope” as Jaguar once describes it. The other involves a female assassin who got caught after murdering the governor of Colorado and admitted to killing another hundred or more people during her trial. Needless to say Jaguar has her hands full.

I feel a little strange typing “Jaguar” as a proper name, but with her background and her having some sort of strange psychic connection with actual jaguars housed at an animal sanctuary on the planetoid, it doesn’t bother me as much as some strange names that don’t have a logical and realistic reason behind them. Also with the noir feel and her being described as cat-like more than once, the name seems fitting. Jaguar is dangerous, but also given her empathic skills, very sensitive to people’s emotions and how best to reach out to them. She’s a badass that keeps a red glass knife concealed on her person, and I really liked her as an occasional detective, who also regularly acted as a therapist and/or a con artist when needed.

The other characters fit into archetypes that balanced Jaguar’s arrogant defiance. Alex, her superior, is a buttoned up suit, who has Jaguar’s best interests at heart, but fears he doesn’t know enough about her to save her from her own actions anymore. Despite that he remains loyal. Nick, an older former lover and partner, has gone a little nuts after using his empathic powers without training and obtaining “shadow sickness” that’s damaging his soul. There’s a shady not-government agency that’s pulling strings in the background and trying to carry out a nefarious plan without having their fingerprints left on it. It’s all very ready-for-television cop show drama, but with the added elements of being in space and some people have the abilities to see insides others’ heads.

My only real issue with The Fear Principle involved the world itself. I never got a very clear picture of how it all fit together. Planetoid 3 seems to be a recreation of Toronto, but is it also sort of a compound? There were times, especially at the beginning, when I had a hard time figuring out whether events were happening in someone’s head or actually physically happening. This confusion lessened as I became more familiar with the rules of Chepaitis’ empaths, but I still don’t know how the treatments of the prisoners can feasibly work when it sounds like their roaming around free. I hope I get more explanation of things like that in future books.

Chepaitis has an interesting writing style considering the book is told in third person omniscience. Whenever a character might get muddled in their or someone else’s headspace or something happens that causes panic, Chepaitis switches to a stream-of-conscious style that verges on nonsensical at times, but always works to carrying across a strong sense of emotional instability. At least to me, it reads like how my mind actually functions (or ceases to function) when suddenly faced with blind panic. It was a different way to express emotion without attempting to describe feelings and I liked it.

The Fear Principle was a nice introduction to this new world and the various players with mystery and a lot of action. Though there were a few rough patches, the story doesn’t suffer much from them and, since it’s pretty short, there wasn’t anything extra to bog the story down. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.