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…
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
I’ve wanted to meet Imogen Peters ever since Fiona met the parrot she trained to sing the final song in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And, well, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Imogen’s tale essentially begins with her seeing her captors massacred by a bloodthirsty alien species that seems to go berserk when they fight. It’s not a great start for her so when she’s on board the Class Five with the Krik and meets other prisoners they have taken, things get interesting. The Class Five called Paxe is the one who saves her from the Krik in order to save himself. In this way we get to see a Class Five’s awakening and the beginning of their humanization whereas Sazo and Eazi were definitely more socialized by the time we meet them. It was fascinating to see Imogen try to reign in some of Paxe’s practical if cruel responses to situations as well as see Paxe respond to Imogen’s emotions and become aware of his own emotions. Their friendship isn’t as long-lasting as say, Rose and Sazo’s, but they definitely have some chemistry and it makes for a great read.
While some readers may be disappointed about the romance part of the story being relegated to the side, I actually didn’t mind the change of pace. Imogen is in a very different situation from Rose and Fiona, what with a war between United Council members on the horizon as the true extent of the Tecran treachery is revealed. Cam is still a fascinating love interest and the pure attraction between him and Imogen can’t be denied. But it’s not a main plot point and although I was thrown by it at first, as I said it does make sense given the political situation and the limited amount of time the Grih and others have to avoid all-out war. Dark Minds is definitely a faster read than the previous two novels and that really makes it a great ending to the stories of these three incredible women (because of course we get to meet Fiona and Rose again).
Although I would have of course loved for the trilogy to turn into a ten book series simply because of the quality of Michelle Diener’s writing and world-building, this is a good place to stop. The ending is both happy and tragic but more importantly, it’s satisfying. It ties up all of the loose ends while at least leaving the possibility of more books set in the same world at a later date. Dark Minds was an emotionally resonant, enjoyable end to a trilogy that I’ve fallen in love with over the past few years. If you haven’t started the trilogy, I highly recommend going out and buying Dark Horse. But if you’ve read the first two books, you need to buy the third book; you won’t be disappointed.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
Far from home . . .
Fiona Russell has been snatched from Earth, imprisoned and used as slave labor, but nothing about her abduction makes sense. When she’s rescued by the Grih, she realizes there’s a much bigger game in play than she could ever have imagined, and she’s right in the middle of it.
Far from safe . . .
Battleship captain Hal Vakeri is chasing down pirates when he stumbles across a woman abducted from Earth. She’s the second one the Grih have found in two months, and her presence is potentially explosive in the Grih’s ongoing negotiations with their enemies, the Tecran. The Tecran and the Grih are on the cusp of war, and Fiona might just tip the balance.
Far from done . . .
Fiona has had to bide her time while she’s been a prisoner, pretending to be less than she is, but when the chance comes for her to forge her own destiny in this new world, she grabs it with both hands. After all, actions speak louder than words.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
For those of you hoping to see a continuation of Rose’s story from the first book, don’t worry! Fiona is obviously her own character and we see things through her eyes but we also get to see what has happened to Rose in the time between the books. With that said, let’s get on with the review.
I was skeptical about switching characters for the second novel but in the end I actually like Fiona a little more than Rose. They’re both great characters but I absolutely love Fiona’s resourcefulness and the fact that while she does find love with Hal, her priorities are more focused on finding out why she was kidnapped and if there are other humans out in space that faced similar predicaments. She’s very practical and determined and I think of myself that way so I guess I’m a little biased toward Fiona because I see myself in her. But really, each to their own. Both Fiona and Rose are strong characters facing tough predicaments and while they obviously aren’t thrilled about their situations, they adapt and maybe even learn to love their new reality.
In the last book, the political tensions between the Tecran and the Grih are almost at the boiling point by the end. However, with the discovery of Fiona, a second kidnapped human that proves Rose’s situation was not unique, things definitely start to boil over. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling some fascinating plot twists, but let’s just say that unfortunately, Fiona and Rose aren’t alone in their predicament either. And the Grih will go to war with the Tecran for their egregious and blatant violations of intergalactic treaties regarding the treatment of sentient beings. Politics definitely plays a bigger role in this book than it did in Dark Deeds.
One of the things I loved in this second book is that rather than letting the plot drag on as it builds up to the third book (as so many second novels do), Michelle Diener ups the ante. Now that the Grih are aware other Class Fives are out there, they’re not all that inclined toward leniency. Even though Sazo is on their side, they know it’s because of his personal connection to Rose. What if Eazi isn’t as attached to Fiona and is more inclined to enjoy true freedom? What if he turns agains them, especially after Fiona is very nearly killed multiple times by both the Grih and others? Again, I can’t say too much without spoiling things but let’s just say that Eazi isn’t Sazo; he’s a little more inclined to find his own path and the results are hilarious and satisfying.
Fiona was a great character, the political tensions have only increased and Michelle Diener managed not to fall into the temptation of creating a pattern of turning Class Fives exclusively over the Grih. Really, what more can you ask for in a second book? I honestly can’t wait for the third book, Dark Minds. What little we saw of Imogen through Fiona’s eyes makes me excited just to meet her character, let alone find out what happens to the Tecran and the Grih in the end.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
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.
[Full disclosure: I received and accepted a NetGalley invitation from the author to receive a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.]
I was introduced to Michelle Diener’s work through her debut fantasy novel, The Golden Apple. After that, I delved into her historical series about John Parker and Susanna Horenbout (set in Tudor times). So when she emailed me saying that she had expanded into science fiction I was very excited to read her new book. It took me much longer than anticipated to get to it, but in the end it was worth it.
Dark Horse starts out with our protagonist, Rose, escaping from the alien ship that has held her captive and tortured her for about three months. The Tecrans that hold her hostage are more advanced than humanity but Rose has escaped by making a promise with the rogue artificial intelligence system, Sazo. Sazo teleported the Class 5 Battleship into the middle of Grih territory. The Grih are an alien race the closest to humans and therefore the most likely to accept Rose into their society when they inevitably find her. But despite Sazo’s help in getting her out, Rose really isn’t sure of the artificial intelligence system’s true motivations and whether or not he plans to harm or help the Grih. Sazo’s actions in getting her out of the ship really make her doubt that.
Rose is a great main character. We don’t get to experience all of the horrible things she went through when the Tecran experimented on her but we certainly feel the repercussions throughout the novel. You don’t walk away from three months of torture completely unscathed. At the same time, Rose is full of hope that she can build a new life for herself among the Grih, particularly once she meets them. Her attraction to Dav, the admiral in charge of the ship that found her is undeniable but at the same time she’s still keeping Sazo’s existence a secret. It’s a dangerous secret that threatens to wreck all that she has worked for and possibly start an inter-galactic war. Throughout the novel you really get the feeling that Rose is a fundamentally good human being who was in a terrible situation and is now willing to do almost anything it takes to get out of it with her honour and dignity intact. It’s certainly not easy.
Not only is Rose a three dimensional character, Dav is as well. He’s an admiral who has followed the book to the letter from about day one to get where he is in his career currently. But that all seems to change once he meets Rose and is exposed to entirely new ideas, ideas that really threaten views he once thought were set in stone. Yes, there’s an attraction between the two of them but it really feels organic and Michelle Diener allows that attraction to grow throughout the novel. It’s far from straightforward either—there are plenty of bumps along the road as he discovers Rose isn’t being entirely truthful with him and the secret she keeps may ruin the tentuous peace between the five main races in the galaxy.
I could go on and on about the character of Sazo, the artificial intelligence, but to do so would spoil some of the lovely surprises Michelle Diener leaves for her readers. Suffice it to say, Sazo’s and Rose’s banter makes for some of the best parts of the entire book. And considering the quality of Dark Horse, that’s pretty high praise. Even the secondary characters are very well fleshed out, something that I’ve found is very consistent with Diener’s novels, fantasy, historical fiction or otherwise.
I really did love the world-building in Dark Horse. Some of the technology was so creative, some of it was similar to other science fiction novels and a few things will be very familiar to avid science fiction fans. (Rose even makes a joke about this when asked how she can possibly figure out the Grih technology so fast.) What I really liked, however, was the cultural aspect of the world-building. Considering the fast pace of the novel we don’t exactly get an in-depth look at Grih culture but we do get beautiful glimpses into it. For example, the scarcity of music-makers due to not only the Grih language but their anatomy. It’s all very fascinating and very well thought out.
Best of all, Dark Horse starts out pretty fast paced and maintains that pace quite well throughout the novel. There are some ‘down’ moments but the tension never really leaves, especially when you consider that Rose’s secret is really a ticking time bomb that could have disastrous consequences. I can’t talk too much about the plot because that would spoil some of the twists and turns, but I think it’s enough to say that you’ll definitely be (pleasantly) surprised with said plot twists. They’re logical and exciting at the same time.
Basically, Dark Horse is an amazing science fiction debut for Michelle Diener and I personally can’t wait for more, preferably in the same universe (if not the same characters). I can’t recommend this novel enough.
I give this book 5/5 stars.