In Enemy Hands is a science fiction romance from the new Harlequin imprint – Carina Press, a digital only publishing house. This review is from an eARC I requested from the publisher.
The Premise: Dr. Moon Thadin is a scientist who lives in a futuristic universe controlled by a ‘Big Brother’-like governing body called the Republic. When her first research partner revealed himself to be a rebel against the Republic, Moon spent two years in prison as his suspected ally. Now she’s free, but the taint of her association with a terrorist, despite her innocence, follows her. Moon wants to exonerate herself with succeeding in her research to reignite dead stars. The Republic has given her a state of the art laboratory on the Differential, and a new research partner so she can conduct real trials. Srin Flerovs, is Moon’s new research partner. He’s special – not only is he a math genius, who can make calculations in his mind at a faster rate than the most advanced Quantaflex computers around, but he also has his own handler, who secretly drugs him to ensure compliance. Srin’s memory is reset every two days.
My Thoughts: I really liked the backstories of the hero and heroine in this book. A hero who loses his memory every two days and has been told that he’s got a degenerative disease to explain away his aging? A heroine who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and is now forever uncertain of her freedom under the Republic? It was a compelling read just to find out what these two thought about their situations! At first Moon is the more complex one because we follow her as she first steps onto the Differential and is introduced to her lab and to the people on the ship, which include a sympathetic Captain Jeen, the open-faced Srin, and his handler Dr. Hen Savic. As the book continues, Moon is usually the focus of the third person narrative but we sometimes the shift is to Srin and his struggles with his memory.
Although the book was a quick read at 257 pages for the eARC, it felt like there was enough going on in those pages to satisfy me. The world building was good – I enjoyed the science part of this story. It felt well researched, and although I wouldn’t call it hard science fiction, it wasn’t light either. Knowing pretty much nothing about astronomy, some of the science discussion went over my head but I could infer what Srin and Moon were talking about. I also found the writing well done. I noticed a couple of editorial issues which I will take as this being an ARC and not a finished product, but other than that I liked the flow and style. Srin’s memory loss is major problem for the hero and heroine in their path to a HEA. The Republic breathing down both their necks for a positive outcome to their experiments is another hurdle. I found myself wanting to know how they’d overcome these issues, and both characters were likable so I was invested in them escaping their situation.
Despite liking much of the writing, I did have a nit with the some awkwardness in the way the romance is laid out in this story. First of all, Moon notices the handsomeness of both her ex-research partner and Captain Jeen before ever meeting the hero, Srin. I thought that maybe the author wanted to show that despite the hero’s average looks, the heroine fell in love with him, but if it wasn’t for the back blurb that told me that Srin was the hero, I’d be identifying Moon’s ex-partner as the hero (from the excerpt above there are lines like “He didn’t touch her but she felt the heat of his body radiating out to hers, and then he flashed her that quick grin again.”), or Captain Jeen. That was rather confusing. Then there is the issue of Srin’s memory loss and their romance. At first the author manages to make the romance between them believable – Srin comes back every two days with a clean slate and every time he does he begins again as someone who is attracted to Moon, much to Moon’s private dismay – she’s already in love with someone who doesn’t remember her. Then as things progress it felt like sex was used as a shortcut – twice after Srin’s reboot to a man wiped of his memory, Moon throws himself at him, and he’s at first shocked but of course goes with it, they have mad sex and he suddenly recalls who she is. I didn’t really find Moon’s actions there believable and the sex scenes at those points felt gratuitous. In fact there are about 4 sex scenes in this book and I thought about half of them could have been cut along with a scene with Moon by herself, but your mileage my vary on that one.
Another problem I had was that because Moon was a very intelligent woman, I found it hard to believe that her character would miss the obvious about what the Republic was up to regarding her experiments. It seems too obvious for her not to realize. The story suggests she didn’t want to admit the truth to herself because it would mean rocking the boat, something she in particular wouldn’t want to do, but this didn’t seem to fit with her character and questions about Srin. What was also strange was that Srin actually tells her about the Republic’s likely plans and she is shocked/dismayed, but then a little while later he tells her again and she is shocked/dismayed again. I hope this repetition was a problem in editing and not going into the final product, but I found other incongruities in the writing similar to that.
Overall: This is a science fiction romance which I think has a lot to recommend it – really good premise and interesting characters for one. I found the writing compelling and worth trying out for science fiction romance fans. I did have reservations about inconsistencies (see above), but since this is an eARC, these may not be there in the final product. I suspect however my issues with the romantic plot will still be there, but I did find these issues relatively minor.
A comment on the cover: The hero and heroine are scientists and I don’t think either model on this cover looks right. Why would practical Moon be wearing a leather skirt and a whatever that is on top? It seems to fit a generic idea of a SFR couple rather than the actual couple in the book. What I do like is the starry background, the fact that it IS a couple on the cover to convey a romance and that that the font also fits the SFR genre that the book belongs to. So mixed feelings on this cover.
Couldn’t find one in my social circle. Let me know if I missed yours.