Desert Isle Keeper

Dark Horse

Michelle Diener

Narrated by Christina Delaine 

Quite a few of my fellow reviewers have raved about Michelle Diener’s Class 5 series. So, when the audio version of Dark Horse, the first book in the series, became available for review, I was eager to give it a listen. I’m pleased to report the story was everything I was hoping it would be, and, coupled with the expert narration of Christina Delaine, this is a perfect book for those of you who enjoy the audiobook experience.

Rose McKenzie is far from home, the prisoner of a rather barbaric alien race known as the Tecrans. She’s been held captive for quite a while, spending most of her time in a small cell aboard a spaceship. We first meet Rose as she’s planning her escape with the help of an artificial intelligence known as Sazo.

Rose and Sazo have struck up an alliance during the months of Rose’s captivity. Sazo, a prisoner of the Tecran for many, many years, is more than pleased to have Rose around. She agrees to help him escape their captors, if he’ll work out the details. At first, I worried that Rose was supposed to be all brawn and no brains, but my fears were very quickly put to rest. Rose is a fiercely loyal and resourceful woman. Sure, Sazo knows way more than she does about a lot of things, but Rose is able to teach him things related to feelings other than his need for vengeance. He is, after all, a computer, who doesn’t deal well with the softer side of human emotions. You might be wondering how a computer can have any emotions at all, and I can only tell you that Ms. Diener makes the character of Sazo completely believable.

Rose and Sazo’s escape depends heavily on the Gri, a race of beings who look and live very much like humans. Since Rose is literally light years away from Earth, Sazo knows returning her to her home is impossible. So he puts them in the path of the Gri, confident they they will take her in. The Gri have a strong and abiding hatred for Sazo’s kind, but Sazo is sure he’ll win them over somehow.

Gri Captain Dav Jallan is stunned when he and his crew stumble upon one of the legendary Class 5 battleships, but he’s not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. A discovery like this is sure to do great things for Dav’s career. He and his crew board the ship, only to find the crew dead and only one survivor, a prisoner of unknown origins. Dav immediately feels the need to protect Rose. She’s so much smaller than his people, and it soon becomes obvious she suffered greatly at the hands of the Tecran.

Things aren’t quite as cut and dried as Dav hopes they will be. For one thing, he’s sure Rose knows how the entire crew met their demise, but she won’t share what she knows. For her part, Rose is afraid to tell him about Sazo, for fear of putting the AI in danger. She urges Sazo to find a way to reveal himself, but Sazo has other plans, and he’s not the only one.

Soon, Rose, Dav, and Sazo find themselves at the center of a wide-reaching conspiracy that will alter the lives of the Gri and their allies. Personal beliefs and loyalties are put to the test, as they struggle to find the answers that will save them all.

This is so much more than an ordinary science fiction novel. The world-building is incredibly vivid, and the relationships are beautifully rendered. The romance between Rose and Dav contains enough conflict to make it believable, but not enough to test the patience of the reader. It’s obvious these two care about each other, even though it sometimes seems they are at cross-purposes.

I was relieved to realize Ms. Diener wasn’t going to bombard me with a bunch of incomprehensible words and concepts. Instead of relying on jargon, she uses relatable language to explain the technology used aboard ship. Since her world is so well-drawn, I didn’t struggle to comprehend the elements of the story that are so very different from my own reality.

I loved Sazo’s character so much. At first, I wondered if he was a villain of some sort, but it soon became obvious he was as much a victim of the Tecran as Rose was. I laughed out loud at some of his thought processes, and the conversations between him and Rose are priceless. They have a complicated relationship, but it’s clear they each desire the best for each other. Rose’s determination to keep Sazo from becoming a killing machine is one of her best qualities, and I applaud the author for creating a character so complex and unique.

Narrator Christina Delaine has quite a few audiobooks to her name, but this is the first time I have listened to her and I was extremely impressed by her performance. Her pacing is spot on, and she doesn’t display any vocal tics or oddities. Her character differentiation is excellent, making dialogue tags completely unnecessary. She’s one of those narrators who seems to really get what she’s reading, so much so that it feels like she’s part of the story. Everything from the action to the sexy scenes sounds completely authentic.

I was especially enchanted by her depiction of Sazo. She gives him a flat, robotic tone which makes it hard to glean his intentions from his words. This is exactly how computers talk, and as someone who spends hours every day with a computer yammering in her ear, I guess I would know. As the book goes on, Sazo begins adopting certain quirks of human speech, and Ms. Delaine works these in beautifully. She doesn’t exactly change how she portrays him, but her performance is subtly altered as the character grows and changes.

Earlier today, I was browsing the Audible site and discovered, much to my delight, Dark Deeds, book two in this fascinating series, will be released in October and that Christina Delaine will continue as narrator. You can bet I preordered it, and will be diving in as soon as it appears on my iPad.

Breakdown of Grade:  Narration: A       Content: A

Running Time: 14 Hours

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Book Details

Reviewer :      Shannon Dyer

Grade :     A

Sensuality :      Warm

Book Type :     

Review Tags :      |

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