Keeping It Real

  • by Justina Robson
  • Narrated by Khristine Hvam
  • 12 hrs and 20 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In 2015 the Quantum Bomb exploded. An accident at an atom-smasher has fractured reality and opened Earth - now called Otopia - to waves of immigration from other dimensions, home to demons, fairies, elves and elementals. It is now 2021 and Lila Black, a special operative condemned to live as a cyborg after losing her limbs on a dangerous mission, has been assigned as bodyguard to Zal, a charismatic elven rock star. Zal's decision to live among humans and do unelven things such as eat meat and exist as a celebrity has made him many enemies among his own people in Alfheim, some of whom have made threats against him. Black has to protect Zal from death or capture whilst uncovering secrets that threaten the relationships between the realms


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

I made to the end....barely

Some interesting ideas here, strange new worlds, okay not so new, but a fresh spin on them. But really unbelievable characters. Was only able to suspend my disbelief so far and then it crashed. Lila the main character, young, lovely (are they ever anything other than lovely...?!), robo-girl, suffering from what?...self-loathing or something rather shallow if you ask me. Is tricked out in the latest, greatest weaponry and computer gear ever seen or heard of. Supposedly her government has spent billions (yes, billions) of credits on her. You would think that they would pick someone who is a bit less self-centered, would train her enough so that she doesn't make incredibly stupid decisions, would have plumbed the depths of her psyche enough to know whether or not she had the emotional stability and mental toughness and just plain smarts to be a "super-spook". Descriptions of people, places, weapons, situations are done well. Character development is weak, one-dimensional, or illogical. Characters never behave in a manner that makes sense except maybe to a teenager in the throes of hormone imbalance. And dialog....what a joke! There are what sounds like whole pages of conversation that consist of give and take between characters of one to three words. Painfully simplistic questions and answers that are supposed to be deep and revealing and just sound juvenile and condesending.
I liked the reader mostly. She has a pleasant voice and most of her "voicings" were decent. I didn't care for her male voices though that may have also been a problem with the dialog.
I gave it one star...ok plot, gratuitous stupidity, gratuitous sex...ugh.
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- pakkmom "Lvstoread"


Lila Black is a high-price cyborg special agent. She used to be a regular human, but after a disastrous encounter with someone from a parallel realm, she nearly died. Then she was rebuilt, at huge expense, and is now being sent by her government intelligence agency to be the bodyguard of Zal, an Elfin rockstar who has received some threatening letters. Things get complicated when Zal and Lila become involved in Elfin politics.

Justina Robson???s Keeping It Real has an intriguing premise: a nuclear bomb explosion in 2015 opened up the fabric of the universe and made five parallel worlds accessible to each other. Until then, humans had thought that elves, elementals, and demons were the stuff of fantasy novels, but now they must figure out how to live at peace with all these other species, not to mention the magic they wield.

Unfortunately, that???s about all the good I can say about Keeping It Real. The characters are shallow and unbelievable, especially the protagonist. It???s hard to accept that the government has spent billions of dollars to rescue, rehabilitate, and train Lila to be one of their best superweapons because Lila is pathetic. It???s easy to see why she was nearly killed; she is emotional, weak-willed, unprofessional, and lacks judgment ??? traits that don???t seem to get better after she???s given machinery to help regulate her internal states. She???s constantly angry, resentful, irritated, nervous, flustered, and always on the verge of a meltdown. While on this assignment, she is less aware of what???s going on around her than she is about how she feels about the male characters, how they feel about her, and which female characters might be jealous of her. She quickly and unthinkingly falls for two different men, letting her ???heart??? make important decisions about who she should trust and to whom she should give secret information. And she???s a lot more worried about her relationships than her job. Some special agent.

Another problem with Keeping It Real is the ???science.??? Robson seems to be asking us to take the science seriously, suggesting a rational basis for parallel worlds, discussing the way that Lila???s machinery can control the release of hormones (something it doesn???t seem to do very well, I guess) and split her consciousness so she can act sentry while sleeping, etc. This is something I???d normally enjoy, but Robson just gets stuff wrong ??? basic stuff like confusing brain EEG patterns while sleeping and waking. This is material that???s been in almost every high school psychology textbook for decades and is easily checked at Wikipedia. Getting it wrong really kills your credibility. Mixed with the ???science??? is the ???wild magic??? which is seen, on Lila???s electromagnetic display, as sparkly pink and purple swirls in the ether... don???t get me started.

I might have been able to forgive the aforementioned problems if the plot had entertained me, but it was dull and, frankly, often ridiculous. Where it tries to be funny or profound, it???s just silly or trite. It???s not even suitable for a juvenile audience because of the sex which we know is going to occur because Lila gets bound by an Elfin ???Game??? based on ???sexual forfeit??? within a few minutes of meeting Zal the rockstar. She didn???t even know the rules of these common Elfin Games before she took the assignment and I guess her agency didn???t bother to warn her. (Maybe they thought it was as unbelievable as I did.)

It really pained me to finish Keeping It Real. I only kept on so I could review it, though I admit that I skimmed parts by speeding up the playback of the audiobook to three times normal narration speed. The reader, Khristine Hvam, was fine, though her male voices don???t sound masculine and she reads the word ???across??? as ???acrost??? which made me cringe. But I have to give her credit for not snickering when she read the words ???His body was poetry in her mouth...???
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- Katherine "I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-02-2009
  • Publisher: Audible Studios