Ghost Planet by Sharon Lynn Fisher

This review is based on an eARC sent to me by the publisher.

Ghost Planet
Sharon Lynn Fisher

The Premise: Elizabeth Cole was starting a new job as a psychologist on the newly discovered world of Ardagh 1, also known as “the ghost planet”. This is a place with a remarkable phenomenon – everyone who goes there starts being followed around by a manifestation of a deceased person they once knew. Why the local aliens have chosen to do this is a great mystery, but to cope, settlers have set up the Ghost Protocol. The protocol is not to acknowledge the ghosts whatsoever.  Interaction has had adverse effects and colonists find that ghosts weaken if ignored for long enough. When Elizabeth lands on the planet she is apprehensive about what will attach herself to her, and when she meets with her supervisor Dr. Grayson Murphy, her first thought is to wonder if he’s human. He is, but Elizabeth is in for a shock – she’s the one that’s the ‘ghost’! Her transport to the planet crashed, killing all aboard. Now Elizabeth is faced with the alarming prospect of knowing she’s ‘real’ but being treated as if she’s not. She has to fight for herself and against the Ghost Protocol, while being tethered to the man responsible for it.

Read an excerpt of Ghost Planet here

My Thoughts: I’m not sure how long Ghost Planet has been on my radar, but I’ve been following the author’s blog since sometime last year. Its premise just got me aflutter: a planet where everyone has ghost following them around? And the heroine is surprised to discover she’s a ghost too? And there’s chemistry with the guy she’s linked with? AND Linnea Sinclair calls it a “fresh and fascinating take on the human-alien problem”? Uh, yeah, needless to say, I had pre-ordered this long before I was contacted about a review.

The tarmac was deserted. Foggy and disoriented, I wondered how long I’d been standing there, listening to the evergreens groan in the wind and dreading my first encounter on this new world. Would it be human or alien?
I breathed in the crisp, impossibly clean air, trying to clear my head. My gaze traveled around the landing pad hemmed in by towering conifers, and came to rest on the transport terminal, oblong and silent under a slate-gray sky.
What now?
I had the unsettling feeling I was the only person on the planet—Ardagh 1, more commonly referred to as “the ghost planet” by people on Earth. Inexplicable things happened here. The planet itself was a study in the impossible.
Finally the terminal doors slid open, and a figure stepped out onto the tarmac. Half a dozen others spilled out behind him, and a transport whined into view, landing about thirty meters away.
The presence of the other passengers eased my sense of isolation. But that first man out of the building—he was headed right for me. My heart beat out a warning, and my mind snapped back to the original question: Human or alien?
“Elizabeth?” He raised his dark eyebrows, and my gaze locked on his startling eyes. Piercing, round, and the lightest shade of blue, like sky behind a veil of cloud—clean cloud, not the brown smudges that passed for clouds back on Earth. Something about him tugged at my memory, but I found this the opposite of reassuring.
“Yes?” I answered, uneasy. If he wasn’t human, I was minutes on the planet and already breaking the rules. It was dangerous to talk to them. There were institutions back on Earth devoted to caring for people who’d done so. I’d met some of those people.

I think my instinct for what I like served me well with this one. I loved the concept that promised some interesting world-building, but because this is also Romance, there’s a burgeoning relationship for me to enjoy too. I like a balance between these two things, and Ghost Planet does a good job of it. I especially liked this early on, when Elizabeth has to adjust to her new reality. What first struck me was that although she was on a new planet, far from Earth, her work as a psychologist was something relatable and not high-tech or military. She was a middle-class woman, without any special combat skills, just her degree. And because this was told from her point of view, having the ‘ghost’ tell the her side of story was a nice spin on the extra-terrestrial encounter trope: no one knows exactly what she is, but then, neither does she. Until she’s told she’s a ghost, Elizabeth doesn’t realize anything is wrong, and her shock and confusion at having her most basic identity questioned is good stuff. The irony is that the human Elizabeth was interested in the ‘ghosts’ from an academic standpoint before traveling to Ardagh 1. Now her experience with the Ghost Protocol is much more personal and her questions about her existence much more pressing.

At first it seems like Elizabeth’s unlucky to be attached to her would-be-supervisor Murphy. He’s the psychologist responsible for helping the settlers cope and he’s told them rejecting their ghosts is the best thing to do. But before he realized what she was, they were enjoying each other’s company. When Elizabeth turns out to be a ghost, it’s a surprise for both of them. So Murphy is kind to her and conflicted about his own protocol. Their relationship mirrors the people on both sides of the equation. On one side, there are the humans, wary of a phenomenon that has no explanation, on the other, there’s the ‘ghosts’, struggling to be acknowledged.

Because any interaction with Elizabeth is verboten, the relationship took some time to develop, and I enjoyed seeing how it happened despite the rules against it. Elizabeth’s persistence and Murphy’s empathy were characteristics that brought them closer, but the connection they forged from quiet proximity had it’s own power. The romance takes a natural path there that I liked, and Elizabeth and Murphy make a compatible couple. The one quibble I had, was that once they hit a turning point in their relationship, something went away. I think that that suddenly the discord came from sources external to the relationship, and these two were very harmonious.  I suppose at that point they had enough to deal with.

Anyway, this is a story with a healthy amount of romance but has a plot that doesn’t just evolve around that. There are some suspenseful, action-adventure aspects to the story and Elizabeth and Murphy have to face several threats to their lives. I can’t really go into these without spoiling the story, but I was impressed by how thoughtfully Ghost Planet explores the the ‘ghost’ concept in its storytelling. It’s a concept that’s also a mystery, and thankfully the author doesn’t leave the reader with a lot of hanging questions. It explores a lot of the questions I had and organically integrated the answers into the plot. For example, I’d wondered about other ‘ghosts’ and what they were like, what Elizabeth could do and not do as a ghost, what would happen if she was strengthened by Murphy rather than weakened, what happened if she tired to separate from him, and so on. I even felt like I got something of a satisfactory explanation for why the ‘ghosts’ were there in the first place, or at least a working theory that made sense to me, by the end of the story.

Overall: I’m excited about other people discovering this author. I thought Ghost Planet was very enjoyable science fiction romance with a heroine who is more regular girl than action hero, and a setting that feels very unique (and not just for not being on a spaceship).  I really liked the thoughtful way in which the ‘ghost’ concept was explored in this story, and I also liked how I was engaged by scenes that weren’t all about action. Fisher made relationship dynamics and the fight for dominance (or just acknowledgement) between personalities just as important as physical fights for control. I’d recommend Ghost Planet for fans of Sara Creasy and Linnea Sinclair.

P.S. As far as I can tell, this is a standalone (!)

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

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Fighting Gravity by Leah Petersen

Fighting Gravity is a science fiction romance that was sent to me for review from the author.

Fighting Gravity
Leah Petersen

The Premise: (blurb from publisher) “When Jacob Dawes is Selected for the Imperial Intellectual Complex as a child, he’s catapulted from the poverty-stricken slums of his birth into a world where his status as an unclass is something no one can forget, or forgive. His growing scientific renown draws the attention of the emperor, a young man Jacob’s own age, and they find themselves drawn to each other in an unlikely, and ill-advised relationship. Jacob may have won the emperor’s heart, but it’s no protection when he’s accused of treason. And fighting his own execution would mean betraying the man he loves.”

Read an excerpt of Fighting Gravity (Chapter 1) here

My Thoughts: Told from the first person POV, this had the feel of a memoir. I couldn’t tell what prompted this introspection, but I saw the story as three parts: Jacob’s early years at the IIC, his relationship with the Emperor, and the fallout from that relationship.

Jacob Dawes starts off as an unclass in Mexico City. His father, an abusive drunk, was Resettled years ago, leaving Jacob (or Jake), his mentally ill mother, and his toddler sister to fend for themselves. When he’s eight-years old, Jake’s intellect gets him selected for the Imperial Intellectual Complex (the IIC), so that he and a handful of genius children can serve the Emperor with their technological and intellectual advancements. It’s an honor to be chosen, but too poor to receive advance notice that this would happen, Jake is taken away from his family by unsympathetic servants of the Empire. At the IIC, his poverty and class keep working against him. He’s immediately singled out by the Director as a likely troublemaker and unworthy of being in the program at all. Shunned by many of the students and instructors, Jake struggles to prove himself, but he’s often the target of punishment and bullying. Eventually, he finds his niche in Physics under a kindly mentor, and after that he becomes a rising star with a series of breakthroughs under his name. By the time he’s fifteen, his advancements bring him to the attention of the young emperor, Rikhart IV, who is exactly Jake’s age. An unlikely relationship begins.

Jake and Peter (the Emperor) are on the exact opposite spectrum of the class ladder. At first Jake is in awe of Peter, but he quickly adjusts and sees Peter as another person – someone he likes. When Peter brings Jake along on a year-long tour of the Empire, the two have a chance to spend time alone. They begin a romantic relationship after an easy companionship (sex here is fade-to-black after some kissing and enthusiastic pushing). There’s not a lot of slow burn in their romance – their falling in love feels inevitable — but after they do, that’s where the drama really begins.

Class division is a big theme in this book. It’s clear from the start that although Fighting Gravity is set in a future where space travel is common, the social structure is traditional and hierarchical. While the Emperor has absolute power (so much so that the word “Emperor” is used in everyday phrases where we’d say “God”), merely being born as an unclass has made Jacob’s life a constant battle against the extreme bias of those around him.  Jake resolves to be beyond reproach, he doesn’t always succeed, and his impulsiveness often overrules his self-preservation. His non-conformist attitude about class (reacting to the individual, not their status) is welcomed by some (such as the Emperor), but makes enemies of others.

I worried for Jake. He’s the underdog in Fighting Gravity, and while he is extraordinarily gifted, he’s also flawed. His biggest weaknesses involve impulsiveness and letting his anger overrule diplomacy. Jake sees how people react to his class, is annoyed, and just reacts instead of protecting himself and to soothing egos. He knows that the aristocrats have “quiet, unpleasant ends that didn’t involve petitioning committees” if they wanted to be rid of him, but he kicks the hornet nest anyway.

“Others may say what they think, but you cannot.”
“Oh no? And why’s that?” She heard the edge of anger in my voice because her eyebrow quirked.
“You know why. Because of what you are.”
The hot rush of anger spread from my head down through my fingers and toes. My fists clenched. “I thought you were different than them, Your Grace, but I guess I was wrong. I don’t get to have an opinion because I’m unclass? I should have known. You’re like the rest of them.”
The crack of her hand against my cheek left my jaw throbbing and my ears ringing.
“Stupid man. Yes, it is because you are unclass, and you know I do not think less of you for it. If I did, would I be trying to protect you?”

This was a character and relationship-centric story. A big pull of Fighting Gravity (once we’re past his time at the IIC), is the drama that unfolds from the volatile combination of Jake and his closeness to the Emperor. With Peter, who treats him as an equal, everything is wonderful, but that’s in private. In public, time and again, Jake just makes himself an easy target for others and makes decisions without telling his powerful lover. He gets threatened and tells no one, and then of course his enemies carry out their threats. I sped through the story in a matter of hours because I wanted to know whether Jake would be alright and if he could be happy with Peter. It was really frustrating though–Jake brought a lot of trouble on himself, but the hatred against him was unjustified too.

I really liked how much Jake’s class played a role in the story, but I also felt like Jake’s problems center on himself. He’s hated for being an unclass, but he’s oblivious to others with similar situations. When he does think of others not as lucky as himself, his attentions are too little or too late. I’m hoping that enlightenment in this area is being saved for later. I’d like to see how both Jake and Peter would approach the class issues in the Empire.

Another niggle I had was over the extremity of some of what Jake goes through. Despite being caught up in what was going on, a romantic gesture and some painful punishment still felt over the top to me. I found myself asking “did they really have to do that?” at certain scenes. I’d have preferred more nuanced consequences for Jake, even if the angst and drama had me flying through the pages. I preferred the subtler moments, like those between Jake and his assigned servant, Jonathan. There was the suggestion all is not as it seems in that area, and I’m curious where it will go in the next book. Well, if there is a next book. Fighting Gravity didn’t end with a cliffhanger, but it did feel like Jake’s story wasn’t over.

Overall:  Fighting Gravity is a science fiction romance styled as a memoir about a poor unclass boy (Jake) whose genius intellect brings him out of the slums and into the path of the Emperor. They fall in love, but there are consequences because of deeply engrained beliefs about class hierarchy. Overall I thought this was a well-written, emotionally gripping type of read that went down easy. It may not have knocked my socks off because I wanted the class issues further developed, but I can see others not having that issue, and at $2.99 for the ebook, it’s worth giving it a go. Recommended for those looking for a coming-of-age type of SFR.

Buy: Amazon (kindle) | Dragon Moon Press (epub/kindle)
(paperback is also available at the above sites and B&N)

Other reviews:
My blogging buddies haven’t read this one yet.

Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews

Silver Shark
Ilona Andrews

My book reading has taken a little detour into contemporary YA this month (three reviews in the genre forthcoming), but never fear, I’m not abandoning my love of speculative fiction.

Here’s a novella to tide you over. Silver Shark is the second novella set in the Kinsmen universe (the first is Silent Blade https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg, which was published by Samhain, but each book can be read out of order), which is being self-published by the authors. This review is based on an eARC that I requested and received from Ilona Andrews.

The Premise: Captain Claire Shannon is the leader of a team of psychers on the planet Uley. For 300 years her people on the Western Continent have been fighting a war against the Eastern Continent. Claire’s team uses their mind to connect to biological computer networks . They can infiltrate enemy networks, take data, and kill telepathically. They are incredible weapons, and when her side loses the war, aware that her abilities make her a dangerous tool no one wants alive, she hides herself in the civilian population and is shipped off as a refugee. Her mind hidden behind layers of protection, Claire is just a mousy secretary on the planet Rada, but hiding her true ability could be a problem, because her first job interview is for a position with Guardian Inc, which is a company that specializes in “Extrasensory Security Protocols and Biocybernetic Safety”. In other words, she has landed in the midst of pyschers, and her boss, Venturo Escana, head of the Enscana kinsmen family and Grade A pyscher, is the lion in this proverbial den.

Read an Excerpt of Silver Shark here

My Thoughts: Rada, the world in which most of Silver Shark takes place, is also the same world that Silent Blade was set, but while Silent Blade dealt with hired assassins, and physical abilities, Silver Shark is more about telepathic ability and hidden identity. In other words, you don’t need to have knowledge of the world building of one of the novella’s to understand and appreciate the other. In my opinion they may be read in any order, although yes, the couple from Silent Blade does make a cameo in Silver Shark, but I don’t think that a couple getting together in a romance counts as a spoiler.

Silver Shark is 98 pages (ARC length) compared to the 48 paged Silent Blade, so it’s no surprise that the world building felt more involved. This story revisits Rada, but describes it as seen from a foreigner’s perspective – very bright and beautiful compared to the drab, utilitarian (and war torn) Uley, Claire’s home planet.  I liked the way these places worked with the plot, but what I particularly liked was the depiction of the biological computer networks that only telepaths can access. The visual representation of code reminded me of the Scarabaeus series by Sara Creasy, but it in not quite the same way – more like being inside a dream than outside it. I really liked how lush and dangerous this computer world was and how Claire and others saw it.

This is a science fiction romance spin on the boss/secretary trope. In this case, the boss, Venturo Escana has little clue that the drab off-worlder that he decided to rescue is in fact a psycher like himself. Claire on the other hand, is very aware that the first impression she made was off as a fresh-off-the-boat bumpkin, but while her suppression of her true self keeps Claire safe, her attraction to Venturo makes her unhappy that he doesn’t know the real her. I really liked how the story drew out the tension of Claire’s dueling desires and the potential that she would be discovered (and shipped back to certain death in Uley). With this being a romance, as a reader you know Venturo has to find out, but the when and how are unknowns. All I will say is that the execution of the reveal was delicious.

I was also tickled by the thoughtful spins that were put into the boss/secretary story. Of course there is the science fiction setting that is integrated into Venturo’s business, which involves providing security for systems that run on biological networks, but there more than that. For instance the issue of power and consent is addressed in a unique way (which as a bonus shows some insight into Venturo’s POV).  The subplot of cut-throat competitors and a long term grudge with the owner of a rival firm was another nice touch that felt familiar and yet different from your usual Businessman Boss romance.

In the end I really enjoyed this one, and I do find myself rereading my favorite bits with a bit of a grin on my face. The only thing that kept it from being a home run was my reaction to the ending. I felt like I didn’t really get an explanation from Venturo for his decisions, and the story switches gears and ends before we ever do. If not for that feeling of incompleteness, this checks all my boxes. Recommended unreservedly.

Overall: Really, really enjoyable. If you like Boss/Secretary romances, Ilona Andrews, or SFR, then get this. I think $2.99 is a steal for this feel good, entertaining SFR that you could read in one sitting.

Buy: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (nook)

Other reviews:
Leontine’s Book Realm – 4 stars (out of 5)
Literary Escapism – positive
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive

Children of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

Children of Scarabaeus
Sara Creasy

I think that thanks to a couple of influential bloggers, this series is on more people’s radars, and that makes me happy. I really enjoyed Song of Scarabaeus when I read it in September last year (https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg), and when I heard that it’s sequel, Children of Scarabaeus was available on NetGalley, I requested it ASAP.
 
**** mild spoilers for Song of Scarabaeus ****
 
The Premise: In this continuation of the story that follows Edie Sha’nim and her bodyguard Finn, Edie has freed herself from her kidnappers and her goal is to use what she’s recently learned to help Fringe worlds with their reliance on Crib technology to keep their environments viable. Unfortunately, her freedom is short-lived, as the Crib government catches up with Edie and her friends, and reclaims her as their property. Edie has to cooperate or Finn suffers, so she reluctantly goes back to work as a biocyph for Liv Natesa’s pet project on a new terraformed world named Prisca. During the project she makes some startling discoveries about what the Crib is up to, including the use of children as their new breed of cypertecks. In the meantime she’s also asked to return to the place where it all began for her: the planet Scarabaeus.
 
Read the first chapter of Children of Scarabaeus here (pdf)
 
My Thoughts: I was anticipating this read so much that it leaped over all others in my TBR and landed on the top of my queue, and then I read it all in one day. I’m happy to say it felt very readable and I had no inclination to put it down once I started. This book had much of the same sort of twists and turns as the first, with escapes and captures, spaceship crashes, deadly planetary disasters and wild animals. Not to mention the manipulations of Natesa, who wants Edie on her project, which promises terraforming at a much faster pace than ever before and of Colonel Theron who wants Edie to work for him on Scarabaeus. Like the first book, Children of Scarabaeus has a lot going on. In fact, it surprises me how much happens in it within a relatively short number of pages (my eARC is numbered at 322 pages).
 
Edie and Finn begin the story with the same relationship they had when Song of Scarabaeus ended, which was a place where they trust each other completely, but things are still new and Edie isn’t quite sure where she stands. It doesn’t help matters that the chip in Finn’s head (the one that could kill him if he’s too far from Edie) causes emotional feedback that makes romantic entanglements complicated, or that Finn is a hard man for Edie to read. Edie wants Finn by her side, but she also wants him to be free, and not have to be by her side, especially when her skills make her a resource everyone wants. I wasn’t sure how things were going to go for them with their general lack of communication, but this book moves them forward a lot more than the first did, and the romance was not as understated as the first installment.
 
The descriptions of the biocyph and cyperteck technology as Edie sees it continues to be fascinating. I really love how it’s described visually instead of trying to explain the technical details behind it. When the cyperteck children are introduced, I liked how they related to the code differently from even Edie and other ‘tecks. Instead of understanding things visually, they go by sound and by feeling. The code is something living that needs fixing so it can be “well”, and the children instinctively work as a team to patch the code up. They have no idea what the code does, all they are interested in is the feel of the code itself.
 
Children of Scarabaeus does a very good job in tying up all the loose plot strings left over from Song of Scarabaeus. There were a few times where I thought the story was going to go one way (and this probably would have lengthened the plot), but Edie and Finn instead are steered towards their destinies. The way things are satisfyingly tied up leads me to believe that this series is now complete, which is in a way disappointing. This is a case where I would be really happy for more books and more adventures with Edie and Finn. I don’t really think that Children of Scarabaeus rushes to a conclusion, but it upon me before I wanted it to be. I wanted to spend more time, leisurely exploring the galaxy and watching the relationship develop between Edie and Finn. I could have used a book or two between book 1 and the conclusion here, and I think that would have also sidestepped the feeling that the plot twists and deaths in the story were a means to get to the appropriate ending within the pages allowed. I hope that the next series Sara Creasy writes next gets to be longer. And this is from a girl who balks at long series, so do not take my words lightly.
 
Overall: I really loved Song of Scarabaeus, and this is a worthy sequel that has the same action and awesome world building as it’s predecessor. It comes pretty close to pleasing me in the same way the first book does, but it has one handicap – it has to complete the story in one book, which means the romance and the complex plot are tied up before I was ready. I think the author did a good job at making these things satisfying (particularly the ending), but I would have been fine if I had to wait one more book (or two) for it. Thumbs up for this series – get both books.
 
Children of Scarabaeus comes out on March 29th.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
It’s early yet..

Enemy Within by Marcella Burnard

Enemy Within
Marcella Burnard

This book has been on my radar due to it being Science Fiction Romance from a new to me author. This is a review of an ARC that was passed along by a fellow blogger.

The Premise: Captain Alexandria Rose Idylle (Ari), is working on her PhD thesis on her father’s ship, the Sen Ekir, when it is commandeered by pirates lead by a man who calls himself Cullin Seaghdh. As a recent survivor of months of capture and torture under the Chekydrans, Ari lost her crew and then her command, and her father, friends, and the Tagreth Federated Command are all unsure she came back whole.  But this hijacking by Seaghdh, followed by one surprise after another, suggests that Ari may be right in questioning everything and everyone.

My Thoughts: Ari is a heroine with an interesting background. She’s been captured and released by the Chekydrans, had a distinguished military career, holds a degree in xenonanobiology, and ranks in energy blade competitions. On paper she’s borderline perfect, if not for how broken she is from her captivity. Most of the time, Ari is determined in and strong in adversary, but she also is prone to flashbacks and crippling insecurities.  Cullin Seaghdh’s character on the other hand, is sort of the handsome stranger, full of secrets that he keeps from Ari, but he’s not alone in doing that. I liked the idea of a relationship that develops along with the secrecy, however I have mixed feelings about how the romance was written alongside the space opera elements.

This science fiction romance definitely falls under the “sexy” umbrella. There’s lots of sexual tension between Ari and Seaghdh. For that reason I think that this book would appeal to romance readers who enjoy speculative fiction world building (I would compare the ratio of romance to world building and action to Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changling series). For space opera/science fiction fans unused to romance reading,  your mileage may vary on the lusty parts. Ari and Seaghdh’s attraction is a large part of the story. I personally tend to go for a low level of heat, and although there was not much actual sex in this story, the descriptions the hero and heroine’s physical reactions to each other are numerous. That’s usually OK with me, but I found that some of the situations felt a little forced or repetitive, such as stripping down naked in front of each other for a decontamination shower in the first 20 pages, or Ari’s frequent flip outs about Seaghdh’s true feelings and her the descriptions of Ari’s response to Seaghdh. This feeling that the story is being forced extends also to the space opera parts, and I think the overworked feeling I get from the story, is my biggest problem with this book.

The book is chock full of space opera goodies. Aliens, space fights, hijacking, there’s always some action going on, and plenty of conspiracy to go with it. The way Ari and Seaghdh look at every situation from the angle of people familiar with Military Intelligence can be dizzying to follow. Most of this is good and I would usually eat it up with a smile, but there were some parts where the logic jumped a little fast for me (I think one day I’d like to do a reread to see what I missed the first time), or parts where right after one near missed disaster, another occurs, followed by yet another. If I take each event individually, they are fine, more than fine in fact, but there is just so much going on.  If the book had been fiercely edited to remove the chaff, we’d be left with a book I’d love – with a great mix of romance and action, but as it is, there are actually too many ideas and extra scenes because of it.

Overall: Enemy Within takes science fiction romance and makes it it’s own. It shares tropes I’ve seen before, but the mix of breakneck action, a bit of angst and lots of lusty tension is a combination that feels unique in this genre. There was a lot I liked about this book, but there were also things I found problematic – mostly the parts that felt forced – one twist after another, Ari’s mood swings regarding the relationship, and the general feeling that too much is going on. I have hopes that this will improve, and am game to try the second book in this series, Enemy Games (May 2011), which features a hero and heroine introduced in Enemy Within.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Good, The Bad, and the Unread – A
The Book Lush – 4
Babbling about Books, and more – B+

Interview @ Babbling about Books, and more
Guest Post @ Galaxy Express – Parallel Universe: Extraordinary Heroines by Marcella Burnard

In Enemy Hands by K. S. Augustin

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.

Read the Prologue of In Enemy Hands here
A smaller excerpt of Chapter 1

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.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s

Other reviews:
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