The reviews for this issue are (in order):
- Atrophy by Jess Anastasi
- Dark Minds by Michelle Diener
- In the Black by Sheryl Nantus
- Through Uncharted Space by Anna Hackett
Atrophy (Jess Anastasi)
Review by Jo Jones
No one on Erebus escapes alive…
Twelve years on the prison planet Erebus makes a man long for death. The worst part for Tannin Everette is that he was framed for murder. He’s innocent. When the ship Imojenna lands for emergency repairs, Tannin risks everything to escape…only to find himself face to face with the captain’s undeniably gorgeous sister.
Zahli Sherron isn’t planning on turning Tannin in. In fact, she actually believes him. Sure, he’s sexy as every kind of sin, but he’s no criminal—so she hides him. But no one escapes from Erebus and lives to tell about it. With every day that passes, Zahli further risks the lives of the entire crew…even as she falls in love with a man she can never have for herself. (Blurb from Goodreads)
Atrophy is part Science Fiction Romance and part Space Opera. Zahli and Tannin are attracted but there is a big problem. That problem is found in Zahli’s brother, Rian, who is the captain of the space ship Imojenna. The Space Opera part is the quest Rian is on. I found Rian the most complex character in the book. It is hard to put him in any category. Things have happened to Rian that make him difficult to understand or to get a focus on his personality. His reactions drive the story.
The plot has several different twists. It starts as a prison break and ends as a hunt for aliens. The development allowed each character to come more and more into focus. Don’t look for a solution to the alien part of the plot. Zahli and Tannin do get their HEA but that problem is almost part of the background. What the story really does is introduce a great cast of characters, built a complex world, highlight a very big problem, give some of the backstory, and set the hooks for future stories in this world.
I am looking forward to seeing much more of the Imojenna and her crew.
Entangled: Select Otherworld published Atrophy by Jess Anastasi in 2015.
Dark Minds, Class 5 #3 (Michelle Diener)
Review by The Book Pushers
Publish Date: 22 July 2016
Reviewed by: E
How I got this book: ARC from the author via SciFi Romance Quarterly
The mind is the most powerful weapon of all . . .
Imogen Peters knows she’s a pawn. She’s been abducted from Earth, held prisoner, and abducted again. So when she gets a chance at freedom, she takes it with both hands, not realizing that doing so will turn her from pawn to kingmaker.
Captain Camlar Kalor expected to meet an Earth woman on his current mission, he just thought he’d be meeting her on Larga Ways, under the protection of his Battle Center colleague. Instead, he and Imogen are thrown together as prisoners in the hold of a Class 5 battleship. When he works out she’s not the woman who sparked his mission, but another abductee, Cam realizes his investigation just got a lot more complicated, and the nations of the United Council just took a step closer to war.
Imogen’s out of her depth in this crazy mind game playing out all around her, and she begins to understand her actions will have a massive impact on all the players. But she’s good at mind games. She’s been playing them since she was abducted. Guess they should have left her minding her own business back on Earth… (This blurb came from Goodreads)
I enjoyed reading and reviewing the previous two books in this series for earlier issues of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, so when I learned this was up for review for the current issue I HAD to request it. I do recommend, if you are interested and haven’t read the others, that you start with Dark Horse because the series builds with each entry.
Imogen had been abducted from Earth some months previously, and after a series of transfers interspersed with stays of various lengths, finally found herself aboard a small ship with a semi-decent crew keeping her prisoner. However, the ship was boarded and Imogen was the only survivor. She ended up one transfer later as one of many different prisoners and multiple species on a much larger ship. She was the only person from Earth and found herself singled out by their captor, the thinking mind of a Class 5 ship. Captain Camlar Kalor and his team were on a peacekeeping mission to meet up with the heroine from Dark Deeds, Class 5 #2, when their ship was boarded and they found themselves prisoners aboard the Class 5 ship as well.
I enjoyed watching Imogene and Cam work together as they tried to uncover what motivated the Class 5 ships, the Tecran, and their allies. I liked getting a different view of their politics and learning some of how deep the conspiracy went. I appreciated how each ship had a different personality under their anger and the continuing theme regarding the importance of music. I did miss watching a human manipulate the Council although Imogene did do a lot of manipulation. Unfortunately I found the romance difficult to buy because Cam and Imogene spent most of their time regarding each other suspiciously or separated.
While I thought Dark Minds contained some of the same elements I enjoyed in the previous two stories, I had problems with the execution. Primarily, I think Diener tried to cram too many different plot lines into this story and then close them all out in one fell swoop. This resulted in my feeling very let down with a particular scene and left wondering about several of the more intriguing dangling plotlines. When I visited her website to find out what was next and discovered Dark Minds is intended to be the last of the Class 5 series, I felt even more disappointed even as I started to understand why certain things happened.
Overall, I think the Class 5 series started off extremely well with a very promising huge universe and sadly didn’t live up to its promise in Dark Minds, the final installment. Diener’s characters remained fun and I enjoyed seeing all three of the Earth women interacting but I wanted to see less coincidence and what felt like “easy” answers and more of the complexity I found in Dark Horse.
I give Dark Minds a C-/D.
In The Black, Tales from the Edge #1 (Sheryl Nantus)
Review by The Book Pushers
Publisher: Carina Press
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
Reviewed by: E
When Sam Keller left the military, she ran to the far end of the galaxy. Now she captains the Bonnie Belle, a spaceship full of courtesans who bring a little pleasure to hard-up men on mining colonies. When one of her girls turns up dead, it’s Sam’s job to find out who killed her, fast.
Marshal Daniel LeClair is hot as a star and quick on the draw. When his vacation gets replaced by an assignment to help find the killer, he can’t help angling for a little action with the saucy, hard-charging Sam. She’s got brains, attitude and a body he wouldn’t mind investigating.
Sam, six months lonely, might just indulge him. But the Guild that owns the Belle wants the case closed yesterday. With pressure coming from all quadrants, Sam and her marshal clash over false leads and who’s on top. But when the killer threatens the Belle again, romance will have to wait. It’s a captain’s job to save her crew, no matter the cost. (This blurb came from the author’s website.)
I eyeballed this blurb a few times torn between liking the idea of space, woman captain, murder, law enforcement in space and not quite sure what I would think about a heroine responsible for a ship full of courtesans. Obviously my curiosity took the lead and I am so glad it did because I enjoyed this first installment and I am rather curious to see what Nantus has up her sleeves for the next one.
After a rather unpleasant event in the military, Sam never thought the hardest thing she would have to face was as Captain of a courtesan ship. Only after she realized her assignment meant selling pleasure without being able to partake or even without having the platonic closeness of the people she served with did she start to regret her job but even then it was out of loneliness . There was a definite wall between Sam and the courtesans because she wasn’t one of them and as an ethical Captain she also turned down any overtures. On one of her routine mining colony visits, she discovered a renewed interest in life and men as she dealt with a rather messy murder and the marshal brought in to close the case.
Daniel was a loner. He didn’t play by the established rules and never let anyone influence him into altering his decision about a case regardless of the status of the individuals involved. As a result he had the best closure rate and also no possibility of settling down to a plush quiet promotion. When his plans to finally take a vacation were interrupted by a murder investigation, he thought it would be a quick one and then he could get back to his vacation. Instead, he discovered a nosy, prickly, protective ship’s captain and a rather tangled mesh of potential motives, false clues, and too many suspects.
I enjoyed watching Daniel navigate through both the investigation and Sam’s defenses. She was so wounded and suspicious of anyone in a position of authority or power because of the event that effectively ended her military career she provided both help and hindrance in the investigation. The sparks between Daniel and Sam were very evident as much as both tried to blame it on a long dry spell or other excuses. Seeing their mutual trust gradually grow despite their obstacles and the increasing stresses of the investigation as time passed without a resolution was a lovely treat. It was such a contrast to the barrenness of the mining colony and the brutality of the original murder.
When I was thinking back on my impressions of this story Nantus seemed to almost include two separate relationships. The primary romantic one between Sam and Daniel and a secondary platonic one between Sam and the courtesans on her ship. The courtesans had a certain amount of trust in Sam as the ship’s captain but that was due to her job not to her person. At the same time Sam did not understand how they could do what they did or even know how to relate to them on an interpersonal level. Seeing that change and watching Sam’s bewilderment as she did what she thought was right and the results was almost like a reaffirming that Sam wasn’t permanently damaged, just a bit scarred.
In addition to the characters, I thought the universe Nantus created was very fascinating. The power of the Guild with its checks and balances, and fail-safes even over the vast distances of space and how that power was used by varying individuals in different roles. The idea of space Marshals who were supposed to be independent, neutral, and able to deal with a variety of situations reminded me of tales of the wild wild West and the Rangers or gunslingers who enforced the law or what was called the law. The ships making supply or other runs between mining colonies or outposts who were dependent on their regular arrivals and therefore had an element of power and protection. Desperate men and women who signed contracts almost impossible to pay-off because the Company/Guild provided and therefore charged for everything needed to survive making retirement or early pay-out a pipedream.
Growing up I read a lot of westerns and In the Black Nantus took one of my favorite childhood story flavors, added some adult elements, moved it out into space, and created an overall whole I enjoyed reading. As a result, not only am I looking forward to her next SFR but I am also going to look at her backlist and see what other gems I can find.
I give In the Black a B.
Through Uncharted Space (Anna Hackett)
Review by Marlene Harris
I’ve enjoyed every single book in Hackett’s Phoenix Adventures series, from the very beginning At Star’s End to this latest book in the series.
And one of these days I fully expect to discover that the contemporary treasure hunting family in her new Treasure Hunter Security series are the direct ancestors of the Phoenix brothers – both sets of them.
The Phoenix Adventures are set in a gritty far-future post-diaspora galaxy. The mother planet, Earth, is still a nuclear wreck, explored all too dangerously in Return to Dark Earth (reviewed at Reading Reality).
Humans have even interbred, or genetically engineered, some interesting hybrids, like Nissa Phoenix (nee Sanders), Captain of the Phoenix convoy flagship and wife to her former nemesis, Justyn Phoenix (see Beyond Galaxy’s Edge, also reviewed at Reading Reality, for the details on that story.
In this latest entry in the series, Through Uncharted Space, Dare Phoenix and his brothers Justyn and Rynan are indeed traveling through uncharted space, leading a convoy to far-distant worlds, taking their passengers into the unsettled black where there is opportunity for a better life for many, and a chance of adventure for others.
For this branch of the Phoenix family, it’s a living.
But when Dare discovers that one of their passengers is much, much more than she initially appeared to be, the whole family gets bit by the treasure hunting bug yet again. And Dare finds that the troublesome package the Dakota Jones represents is everything that he’s been searching for – whether they find the treasure she seeks or not.
As Dare and Dakota at first resist but eventually succumb to the chemistry between them, the convoy detours into a search for a long-lost Earth treasure ship – and the waterworld it crashed on.
In order to get the treasure all that Dare and Dakota have to do is find a planet that no one believes exists, while dodging a horde of determined assassins who will let nothing get in the way of getting to the treasure first – and killing anyone who gets in their way. And Dakota Jones is first on their hit list.
Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I was looking for a book that would carry me away to its world for a few blissful hours – and Anna Hackett’s books always do.
This is a long-running series, and I enjoy it every single time. Which doesn’t mean that there are not easily discernable patterns to the stories. Just like Eos Rai in the first book, At Star’s End, Dakota is hiding who she is and what she really wants in order to reach a goal that she fears the Phoenixes will steal from her. All the while hiding from someone much more nefarious in pursuit.
And both women have roughly the same goal, to find the location of a lost Earth transport ship carrying massive amounts of pre-diaspora Earth treasure. Eos, who has a brief cameo in Through Uncharted Space, found the Mona Lisa and countless Terran art treasures. Dakota is searching for the Atocha Treasure, which may be the treasure from the Spanish treasure galleon the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. If it isn’t this actual treasure, the prize in Through Uncharted Space was almost certainly inspired by it.
One of the fascinating things about this series is the way that the stories link together, without absolutely requiring the reader to start at the very beginning (although it’s all awesome, so why wouldn’t you?)
In this case, the assassins hunting Dakota are in the employ of Nissa Phoenix’ brother, who is the leader of a deadly cult. We’ve run into him and his gang before, and we undoubtedly will again.
But the story here, as always, is the search for the treasure and the unexpected romance between Dakota and Dare. That romance is not unexpected on the part of the reader, but it certainly is on the part of the participants.
Both of these people have a whole lot of dark buried in their pasts. They both come from histories of extreme poverty and hellish abuse, and they both escaped. But neither believes themselves either capable of or worthy of being loved, and neither trusts outsiders at all. They have a tremendous amount to overcome, and nothing that happens in this story makes it easy.
But it is so satisfying when they make it.