Desert Isle Keeper
The Class 5 series is the absolute best space opera romance available. I’ve adored every one of the books in the set and Dark Matters, fourth in the saga, is no exception.
I would strongly recommend reading all three preceding novels; this one is enjoyed best when you know the backstory.
She’s asleep when they come for her. Lucy Harris has spent the past several months in a research facility, the subject of ongoing testing by the Tecran, aliens who abducted her from Earth. When the lead scientist comes in and tells her to run, pushing the keypad for her own vehicle into Lucy’s palm, Lucy complies. Minutes later she watches in horror as the building explodes, taking the lives of the only beings she knows on this foreign planet with it. Fortunately, Lucy can fly a hovercraft since part of her testing had included checking to see how well she could assimilate to Tecran technology via video games. Unfortunately, she has nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help.
Bane, a powerful AI housed within a top of the line battleship, was once a slave of the Tecran. He escaped, thanks to the help of Sazo and Rose from Dark Horse, and became a cooperative but neutral power within the United Council. He is accompanying their delegation to Tecra to ensure the Tecrans comply with the sanctions meted out when they broke UC law regarding the treatment of sentient beings by kidnapping three women from Earth. But Bane has a secret; he’s not just there to ensure things stay civil between the Tecran and the rest of the UC, he’s also looking for Lucy, a fourth human woman his fellow Class 5, Paxe, mentioned in the final seconds of his life.
Commander Dray Helvan is a member of the delegation accompanying Bane to Tecra. Sickened by the illegal and inhumane behavior of the Tecran, he would rather go to war with them than spend his next few years on their home planet ensuring they comply with the sanctions they were hit with for breaking the United Council treaty but he’s a soldier and goes where he’s sent. When Bane learns that Lucy is indeed alive and on Tecra, trying to outrun her captors, he contacts Dray to enlist his help. Dray vows to do whatever he has to in order to see her safe and the Tecran brought to justice for this latest crime.
It doesn’t take long for all three of them to realize they are in extreme danger. While the UC had been assured that only a handful of the Tecran military were involved in the actions which led to the sanctions, it quickly becomes clear that a significant portion of the population and politicians were complicit if not directly involved with the criminal behavior. That group of people would like nothing more than for Lucy to die, taking any secrets of further crimes she might have with her. They’d be delighted to have Dray and Bane join her in the afterlife and if that means war for Tecra, so be it.
This is an action packed road romance, where Dray and Lucy meet while on the run and pretty much stay in motion until the very end of the story. They forge a bond quickly since they discover early on that the only ones they can really trust are each other and Bane.
Lucy is a terrific heroine. Strong, resilient, persistent and intelligent, on Earth she helped “people work through their problems.” I took that to mean she was a psychologist/therapist since she uses psychological principles to influence interactions with and between her captors. Problem after problem arises as she tries to evade those pursuing her but she never gives up or gives in to despair. She has the common sense to make allies where she can – the doctors at the facility where she is held, Dray, Bane – and to distinguish between the soldiers trying to do her harm and the everyday citizenry. I liked that she wasn’t driven by a hatred for her captors but that she had a balanced outlook towards what she found herself caught up in.
Respectful, resourceful and kind, Dray is a good hero for Lucy, and I liked that he is observant of her wants and needs. Tecra is cold, with food that doesn’t always agree with human digestive systems and Dray is aware of that and helps Lucy with those situations as much as he can. Both he and Lucy are a bit more militant than the heroes and heroines of the other books, but I think that’s because of their increased awareness of the crimes of the Tecran. It is clear that this was no simple accidental and partial stepping over the lines of the UC, but a play by a large portion of the Tecran to undermine UC humanitarian principles and to possibly begin aggressive maneuvers against the other planetary members of the UC. While Lucy, Bane and Dray don’t act or react from anger, they are clear in their determination to seek justice and in their refusal to accept peace at any cost.
The romance here is slow and subtle. The author doesn’t offer us an HEA but does show a strong relationship building between our two leads. I especially liked how much Dray admired Lucy’s gumption. He’s a thoughtful person, careful to balance action with planning but he is passionate about the UC and what they stand for and appreciates Lucy’s equal dedication to honesty and fairness. He never treats her as anything less than an equal, which made me very hopeful for their future. As an alien in a strange universe, Lucy will need allies who appreciate her for herself and Dray is definitely that.
Bane is awesome and I loved the character growth Ms. Diener shows in him. Brilliant and powerful, Bane’s initial instinct on gaining his freedom was to annihilate the Tecran. He’s learned balance in the last few months and is willing to settle for watching them suffer from the sanctions. Something different here is that while he is protective towards Lucy and interested in forging a relationship with her, the two are not bonded as Sazo and Rose were. Their relationship is just building as the book ends and he is connected to Dray almost as much as to Lucy. I liked watching Bane cautiously make friends and include more than one person in his outreach.
Something unique to this book was the opportunity to step off a spaceship and on to one of the planets of the UC. Hearing about how the Tecran lived and getting more in depth knowledge of their culture was terrific. I also liked that Lucy’s ability to sing was very downplayed in this narrative.
There’s only so much you can gush without being redundant so I’ll just end by saying Dark Matters is one of my top reads of 2019. If you enjoy science fiction romance at all I encourage you to pick it up.