Alright, all done with Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells (hereafter referred to as JFW).
Where to start with this one? I think I'll skip the plot synopsis as many others have covered that so well. Note that I will be discussing SPOILERS in this review, so all pearl-clutchers be ready.
Fluency is a interesting case for me, being a life-long sci-fi fan. As I was reading along, I was able to pick up on many instances where cultural sci-fi touchstones have been used which may make this book seem overly familiar to sci-fi fans worth their salt.
That said, does familiarity breed contempt? For some of the reviews I've seen on this book, apparently it does. However, I had to ask myself if the reference and use of these universal science fiction concepts make an original work derivative or if the author is using them to tell a larger story. In this case, JFW is doing the latter.
JFW clearly knows her stuff because there was nothing less than a smorsgasboard (or 'plethora', if you're feeling pretentious) of interesting ideas on display in Fluency, all continually pinballing off each other. I found this kind of exciting, because her narrative allows each idea to interact seamlessly with the ones that came before it.
Major kudos to JFW for the editing and pacing of this tale, as every time I took a break from reading, I couldn't wait to get back to it and see what happened next. The story keeps moving forward, even while developments pile on top of each other. The beginning of the story has a decent mystery to get you interested and the tale of the deserted ship is told well. Overall, I'd say her writing skills are not at issue here. I'd pick up her next book just to see what she has to say.
Now the characters in this drama are a bit of a mixed bag to me, but they are distinct and nicely developed. The background characters served their roles well.
I rather enjoyed the character of Walsh - here stuck in the role of hard-ass commander, but JFW made him an interesting antagonist who was actually quite logical early on. I wanted him to be more involved.
The main character, Jane, I alternately sympathized and disagreed with. She was tough, determined and smart, but also made some questionable decisions on the ship. Her backstory was almost Mary Sue-ish, but JFW kept her in the present which minimized that effect.
The Bergen character, unfortunately didn't hit the mark with me. He seemed rather immature and adolescent in his affections toward Jane, so it grated on me when he pined after her. Their pseudo-love scene was nice and spicy though, with a naughty space-octopus twist;)
As side-note: there is often an outright objection to romantic elements in science-fiction. On the contrary, it can be done properly and with a satisfying payoff. Unfortunately in this case, I feel like JFW and Jane were caught between a rock and a hard place, as the plot doesn't allow for a resolution to that relationship. Almost as if the romance were sacrificed for the scifi. For Fluency and perhaps the rest of the series going forward, this may be the right choice.
This brings me to my favourite character of this novel. Oh lord, what does it say about me that I liked the telepathic space octopus character the best? It says JFW wrote him damned well, that's what it says. This character is complex, interesting, funny, dangerous and innocent all at the same time. Every scene he/she/it/Sir Cthulu was in was golden. He's in it plenty and I still wanted more! Please tell me we see more of Ei'Brai in the rest of the novels...PLEASE.
With regards to the plot, at first I was hesitant when JFW took us to Area 51. While it could be considered a cliche, I was pleasantly surprised when she made that scene very memorable and touching at the same time. I started imagining if that incident would spin off in future novels.
So, to sum up, I would say that you should give this novel a chance. JFW has some good writing chops, the concepts are cool, the story is interesting and the characters are worthwhile. I look forward to seeing what JFW does in the future!