The Empty Night
Note: This book was originally titled Entropy and is referred to as such throughout this review.
Entropy is book four in Jess Anastasi’s Atrophy series of Sci-Fi romances, and the first thing I’m going to say is that it’s not really a standalone. While each of the books has a self-contained plot and different romantic pairing, there are long-running storylines begun in book one (Atrophy/The Last Sky) which impact on each subsequent title, and a newbie would most likely have a bit of trouble working out what’s going on. The good news is that the other books are enjoyable and well-written, so if you like the genre, then reading them is no hardship.
Disillusioned with life in the military after seeing first hand its disregard for some of the most basic human rights, Captain Qaelan – Qae – Foster resigned his commission, bought a ship and has lived on the wrong side of the law ever since, hiring out the Ebony Winter for whatever dodgy deals are up for grabs. He’s got a reputation as a maurauder other pirates shouldn’t think about messing with, a smart mouth, good looks and charm by the bucketload. He’s on galaxy-wide most-wanted lists, and his problems have been recently compounded by the fact that the Ebony Winter is now home to his cousin, Captain Rian Sherron – one of the most feared men in the galaxy – and the crew of his ship, the Imojenna, which was stolen in the previous book.
In the year since Qae and Rian teamed up, they’ve been taking jobs from notorious pirate Rene Blackstone in between chasing down mostly dead-end leads as to the location of the Imojenna. Sitting in his favourite bar one night pondering the fact that the ship is probably so much scrap metal by now, Qae’s musings are interrupted by the entrance of a stunning young woman whose presence clearly makes the other patrons uncomfortable. The barman tells him that she never leaves the bar with anyone – which is like a red rag to a bull; Qae is never one to resist a challenge.
Camille – Cami – Blackstone is sick of being told what to do and where to go by her over-protective father, even though he has good reason for his fears for her safety. She’s had a shitty day and just ducked into the bar to avoid a confrontation with him – and the comments she’s overheard about how she’s the “demon princess of hell” with a reputation for being a stuck-up, callous bitch are the last straw. The infamous Qaelan Foster is dark-haired, blue-eyed temptation incarnate, so she decides to scotch those ice-queen rumours and kisses the hell out of the seriously hot captain right there in the middle of the bar – and then heads out with him into the night.
Of course, it’s not long before news of his daughter’s involvement with Qae reaches Blackstone’s ears and also of course, he’s not pleased. But fortunately for Qae, Blackstone owes Rian big time, and instead of having Qae killed, decides he wants financial compensation – and he wants it in two week’s time. It’s a nigh on impossible task if Qae is to continue to fly under the radar and avoid attention from the authorities; but it’s either that or forfeit his ship, and that’s something he can’t afford to do.
This confrontation is what kick-starts the plot ‘proper’, which sees the Ebony Winter heading off in search of the small fortune Qae has to deliver and following up on a solid lead as to the Imojenna’s whereabouts. The relationships between the characters are all well done, and there’s some great snarky dialogue along the way, much of it between Qae and Rian and Qae and Cami, but I have to say that I wasn’t really feeling them as a couple. They’re cute, but the way their romance starts – with a (not quite) one-night-stand – doesn’t allow for much build-up and there’s not a lot of chemistry between them. Their storyline comes off as a sub-plot really, because much of Entropy is given over to the continuing storyline featuring Rian, who is such an overwhelmingly charismatic and interesting character that I was far more interested in him than in Qae and Cami, who were more like a fun, quirky diversion from the darker aspects of the novel.
I’m not complaining, though. The books in this series are space opera ensemble pieces – comparisons with TV shows like Firefly are inevitable – and I like that about them. But there’s no getting away from the fact that Rian is the star of the show in pretty much every book, so if you’re expecting a more traditionally focused romance, then you might be a bit disappointed.
Rian is a badass of the highest calibre, a former officer who was abducted by an alien race of shapeshifters called the Reidar and experimented upon . He managed to escape and has been dedicated to exposing the Reidar – who have been gradually replacing key members of Earth’s industry and government with their own – and then destroying them when the time is right. He’s a complex, flawed, damaged man; he’s volatile, bitter and prone to violence, although he is gradually learning to cope with his almost ever-present rage, and tries hard to keep control of his emotions. In this, he is sometimes helped by Ella, the enigmatic Arynian high-priestess he was hired to transport in Atrophy; these two have terrific chemistry and something has been building between them since the beginning. Rian is unsettled by her telepathic abilities and coolly controlled demeanour and tells himself he’s not attracted to her; Ella finds her attraction to Rian similarly inconvenient. They try to keep their distance, but it’s obviously becoming more and more difficult, and a surprise development here makes it practically impossible for them to do so any longer. I admit that I was far more interested in his story than in the Qae/Cami romance, which is fairly lukewarm. But I expected that going in, so I didn’t find it as irritating as I might have done in other circumstances, and I really I hope Ms. Anastasi isn’t going to make us wait too long for Rian and Ella’s story.
Entropy is a thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced read with plenty of high-stakes action, snarky banter and some steamy scenes along the way. I enjoyed it and zipped through it in a couple of sittings and would recommend it to other fans of sci-fi romances and space operas – with the suggestion that you consider picking up at least one other book in the series to smooth the way a bit.