I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.
I started looking at this because the blurb was intriguing, but I absolutely had to have it once I realized this was the same Michelle Diener who wrote A Dangerous Madness. I had to know how an author who wrote such a fabulous historical fiction with a dash of romance would pull off science fiction.
Some secrets carry the weight of the world.
Rose McKenzie may be far from Earth with no way back, but she’s made a powerful ally–a fellow prisoner with whom she’s formed a strong bond. Sazo’s an artificial intelligence. He’s saved her from captivity and torture, but he’s also put her in the middle of a conflict, leaving Rose with her loyalties divided.
Captain Dav Jallan doesn’t know why he and his crew have stumbled across an almost legendary Class 5 battleship, but he’s not going to complain. The only problem is, all its crew are dead, all except for one strange, new alien being.
She calls herself Rose. She seems small and harmless, but less and less about her story is adding up, and Dav has a bad feeling his crew, and maybe even the four planets, are in jeopardy. The Class 5’s owners, the Tecran, look set to start a war to get it back and Dav suspects Rose isn’t the only alien being who survived what happened on the Class 5. And whatever else is out there is playing its own games.
In this race for the truth, he’s going to have to go against his leaders and trust the dark horse.
And the answer to how Michelle Diener pulled it off? Brilliantly! So far, this is one of my favorite books this year. Rose was such an interesting heroine. She’s empathetic, warm, loyal, and level headed and logical. Captain Dav Jallan is also an excellent hero, if slightly less fully fleshed out than Rose. And the star of the show was truly Sazo. An emergent Artificial Intelligence being, one so young and mistreated, he has a lot to learn. Yes, I think it is fair to say I liked the characters.
What really shines though is the world building and the suspense. Diener wasn’t heavy handed or beating one about the head screaming THIS IS SCIENCE FICTION, it was almost more a social commentary. The Grih are very like humans in many ways, but there are enough social and cultural differences to make them seem alien, and enough to make things more social communication difficulties than any Big-Mis. It made me think of a post I recently read on the book Local Customs. The effect was a bit more subtle than that, but the cultural differences were very real. So it was very interesting to see Rose interacting with all these different characters, and their perspectives of her and she them. And as far as world building goes, since Sazo is an AI he has access to a certain amount of information, so some of the world building was done through him explaining to Rose, but really, Rose and Sazo had a lot to learn and so we were all dropped into this situation where we had to learn quite a bit in a short time. It was well done with no real jarring info-dumps.
The other interesting thing about the book, is that I truly think the science fiction and mystery aspects could have survived without the romance, and the romance would be just as enjoyable if the alien factor was taken out and you plopped these two characters and their ideals into a romantic suspense. Don’t get me wrong, it blended seamlessly, but it made me give a head quirk and think that even hard boiled non-romantic science fiction readers would still enjoy it.
Overall, there were plenty of twists, some thought provoking questions about what it really means to be a sentience, a lovely romance that doesn’t crowd out the story line but also isn’t given short shrift, and characters I cared about. I really hope that we’ll get to learn more about the Class 5’s and Grih society, and that there will be at least a sequel. My only quibble is that the blurb’s use of “dark horse” seems a little hoky, but in the book it works very well. 5 stars