Desert Isle Keeper
When I picked up this book to refresh my memory before writing my review I found myself rereading the whole thing. A rare space adventure romance this is a completely enthralling story about courage, love and the indomitable human spirit that the best of us convey. Just call it the Unbroken of the romance genre.
Rose McKenzie has been a prisoner of the Tecran for the past three months. We meet her as she is escaping their ship with the help of Sazo, an AI who is also a prisoner and with whom she’s formed a bond. He’s saved her from captivity and torture, but Rose is far from ready to call him friend. Sazo has shown himself ruthless in the pursuit of freedom and she knows that if at some point she becomes more liability than asset she just may find herself viewed as collateral damage. Still as they head towards the moon of Harmon and she has her first shower in over 12 weeks she can’t help but be exceptionally grateful to him.
When the Tecran Class 5 battleship all but lands in the lap of Captain Dav Jallan he is more than a little concerned. His crew is excellent but they are explorers and their chances of surviving an encounter with the most powerful ship the United Council has ever seen are almost nil. Then they find out the air and power on the Class 5 are off. When they board, almost all the crew is dead and those who remain refuse to explain what is happening. One thing is clear though – judging by the dead beast in the launch pad and the cages in the holding area the Tecran have been doing a lot of illegal capturing of sentient beings. Assuming they sent the evidence to the surface of the nearby moon Dav and his crew head down there to see if they can solve the mystery of what happened on the Class 5.
But they find more questions than answers. Gazing calmly at them from the gang-plank of a small shuttle is an advanced sentient. She calls herself Rose and looks very similar to them, although smaller and curvier. Her ears are softly rounded and her hair is of a strange color, length and texture but she is clearly from a planet with a comparable evolutionary route to the Grih. When her melodious voice speaks their language almost flawlessly they are stunned. Who is she, why is she there and what does she know about what has happened on board the Class 5?
Rose has an answer for almost everything but her responses are clearly missing information. For example, she is stunned to learn the crew of the Class 5 is dead but hedges about what could have happened to them. When Dav gets her back to his ship it is obvious that she is torn about warning him regarding a possible danger to his crew and keeping the specifics of that danger to herself. Drawn to her but wary of what is happening Dav seeks to find his way through a maze of secrets that could lead to the possible destruction of his people.
The greatest strength of this book is the characters, most especially the heroine Rose. Strong, resilient, intelligent and optimistic she consistently makes the best of every situation. She epitomizes “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But she’s no Pollyanna. She is simply brave, resourceful and clever. She treats everyone with respect and courtesy and demands they return that treatment. She knows she will have to make a home among these people and wants them to know from the start she is their equal. The fact she was willing to adapt like that was something I loved about Rose. She could have demanded they take her back to her own planet but that would have led aliens with powerful technology straight to Earth’s front door. She has people she loves and a life she would like to get back to but she forfeits all of that to keep everyone else here safe. That courage and willingness to sacrifice pretty much sums up who she is.
Had Rose been picked up by anyone but Dav and his crew things still could have ended in tragedy but Dav is a great commander. A warrior, a gentleman and a man of quiet intelligence he knows something is going on around Rose that could have dangerous repercussions not just for his crew but for all his people. Rather than meet that threat with a show of force he meets it with courtesy and wariness. His behavior saves a lot of lives as we see later in the story.
Sazo, the artificial intelligence, is another primary character in the story. He is brilliant but pissed. Having been held prisoner for the last six years has made him less than respectful of biological life. Meeting Rose has changed him, made him willing to trust at least one person. That said, he’s in control of the most powerful ship in the galaxy and can use any transmission to piggyback his way into control of others. He’s been a slave once and has no intention of being one ever again, even if that means using deadly force.
The romance here is slow and subtle and perfect. I loved how Rose and Dav built carefully on the chemistry between them and developed a strong relationship. I loved too how they dealt with the issue of Sazo and his effect on them as a couple. It was an interesting and important part of the plot and I was impressed by how it was handled.
There’s only so much you can gush without being redundant so I’ll just end by seeing this is one of my top reads of 2015. If you enjoy science fiction at all I encourage you to pick it up for yourself. I don’t think you will be disappointed.