This is a book that keeps popping up as a recommendation on Amazon, based on what I seem to search for there. I finally bought it after a long time with it languishing in my wishlist.
The Premise: Linnea Kiaho is a young woman who lives in a fishing village in the world of Santandru, where people are rough and poor, believe deeply in their religion, and elk out livings in a hostile environment. When the village’s fishing boat is destroyed Linnea is an unmarried woman trying to keep her sister and her sister’s kids together. No one is hiring in the nearby town and in desperation for money, Linnea uses a family secret passed down from her mother to try to get money from the Pilot Masters. The Pilot Masters are the leaders of the system of planets – the only people with the genetic ability to pilot ships between worlds. Their offer is that of work for Linnea as a servant on Nexus, which Linnea accepts despite the shunning she receives from everyone (Nexus is considered decadent and sinful). Linnea hopes that she can convince the Pilot Masters to renew their trade contract with Santandru, which is the only means that her people can continue to survive. There Linnea is indentured under the Pilot Iain sen Paolo, who is embroiled in his own troubles and doesn’t want her. Unfortunately, the secret Linnea holds entangles their lives and puts targets on them both. This is the first book in a completed trilogy.
My Thoughts: I loved how this book started. The contrast between technology and the lives of the poor fishing village was striking. I was sucked into the setting of a poor planet that depends on trade with other worlds so that they can get parts for their fishing ships, and the problems when “the brain” of the ship stops functioning. Despite the presence of high technology, these people are too poor to really afford it. Not everyone knows how to read, women are expected to marry young, and Linnea is considered strange for not being unmarried (she’s nineteen). I also liked the idea of Nexus, the home world of the Pilot Masters as seen through the eyes of this backwater planet. It’s rich and decadent, but Nexus doesn’t have the same beliefs or culture that they do, so it is Evil, even though no one that Linnea knows on Santandru has ever been there.
When Linnea finally gets to Nexus, it is a huge change. The people are mostly men, because only men can be pilots, and they only want boy babies. Woman are only allowed there when they have a contract, and births are very strictly regulated. Only people of the Line, who have been vetted by the Council, are allowed to have children. In the meantime, the men are very open about relationships with other men, and casual sex is the norm. In their eyes, Linnea is an ignorant country girl. It was interesting to see the culture clash.
I really enjoyed the book up to when Linnea meets Iain and gets adjusted to his home. Until that point I was reading this book non-stop, and then I had to put it down to go to sleep for work the next day. The next time I picked up the book, the focus had changed and I found myself less engrossed. Rather than centering on Linnea and Iain and they’re getting to know each other, the book begins to focus on other problems – Iain’s political rivals, his uncle and his cousin, and on Iain’s father. Linnea suddenly becomes a tool in their power struggle and Iain’s relationships with the other men becomes more important in the story, and the stubborn woman becomes a submissive servant. By the time we get back to focusing on Linnea, it is further along in the story. Despite the danger for Iain and Linnea, the things Iain’s father refuses to hide from him, and the sadistic manipulations of Iain’s cousin, I was disconnected from the story on Nexus.
The romance in this book was understated. The relationship grows because they only have each other to turn to, and it’s not an easy path for either of them. There are a few things for them to overcome, like abuse and their different backgrounds, but the basis for the relationship is put down in this book. I think it will be interesting to see where it goes in the rest of the trilogy.
A note on the cover: I like the cover – the colors and the couple suggest that it’s a science fiction romance, but the guns are misleading and my idea of Linnea and Iain from reading the book is really different from the cover models.
Overall: A promising new science fiction romance series. Very good world building and writing. I liked this book, but found the second half less strong than the first. It sets things up for an interesting series which I plan to continue reading.