I love science fiction romances, so when I was offered the opportunity to review Susan Grant’s Moonstruck, the first volume in her new Borderlands series, I was delighted. I have not yet read (although I plan to) her last trilogy, to which this book is a sequel, but you needn’t do so in order to understand and enjoy this one. Be warned, however, that although this review does not contain any “spoilers” to personal relationships in the earlier novels, it does so on the political background.
A new era has begun. After centuries of war, the Coalition and their arch-enemy, the Drakken, together with newly-discovered Earth form a new interstellar alliance, called the Triad. And their first warship – make that diplomatic ship – the Unity, is to be manned by elite officers from all three groups. The Triad offers command to Admiral Brit Bandar, arguably the most respected military leader of the Coalition and known as “Stone-Heart” to her enemies. Due to the recent civil war, a candidate from the Drakken Horde is less easy to find, but the admiralty manages to recruit Finn Rorkken, most recently a Drakken Warlord and before that, “Scourge of the Borderlands”, an infamous pirate. Add to that a mix of correct Coalition, half-wild Drakken and some fun-loving Earthling crew, and you are in for a fun read.
During the first third of the novel, Susan Grant uses some space to develop the political situation and the interaction between the different groups. I liked that a lot. There is a Star Trek-y feeling to these scenes, not in a copy-cat way, but in the way a large ship is organized and in the hierarchical structure on board ship. The author introduces a number of intriguing minor characters, whose stories may well be told in sequels. Cultural differences cause misunderstandings, some of them hilarious and some troubling.
At the same time, the main romance develops. As the novel begins, Brit is on shore leave and shares her room with a male prostitute. Before she joined Coalition forces, she lost her young husband and has mourned him ever since. Because she adored her husband, she believes a new relationship would betray his memory, and she avoids all but the most superficial sexual encounters. She hates the Drakken with a vengeance, thinking them nothing but thugs and murderers, and finds it very hard to see anything positive in the new cooperation. On the other hand, when faced with the Drakkens’ attempts to integrate into Coalition structures, she is fair enough to give them a chance and to appreciate their willingness to adapt. Still, being romantically involved with a Drakken is about the worst nightmare imaginable for her.
Brit and Finn may never have met in person, but they played a game of cat and mouse during Finn’s pirating years. She only grudgingly respects Finn, whereas he is open in his admiration for her strategies and tenaciousness from the beginning. Brit may appear hard at the beginning of the novel, but slowly we get to know what events shaped her while at the same time we see her struggle for fairness and open-mindedness towards her new crew and her new second-in-command. Brit and Finn’s surprise is huge when they meet, because each feels an immediate, wild attraction to the other. For Brit, this is the beginning of a nightmare. At first, she sees a strong resemblance to her dead husband in Finn, which completely throws her. Then she recognizes the resemblance as merely superficial, making the attraction she feels even harder to account for. The romance begins with sexual attraction and centers on sex at first, with other feelings only following some time later. I enjoyed the love scenes, because they were both steamy and expressive of the characters’ emotions.
Finn is fairly unique among romance heroes: In spite of many wounds in the past and in spite of the fact that thus far he has never been able to choose his own fate, he is at peace with himself. Yes, he was press-ganged by a terrible regime and has done his share of bloody deeds, and yes, he and his crew are about to starve now that the regime has crashed. But he tries to live by his own code of honor as well as he can, taking responsibility for his crew, and he refuses to torture himself about what he cannot change. What a refreshing attitude! As a result, he can be self-confident and patient and completely unfazed by Brit’s power of command. He does make mistakes, but he tries to understand what went wrong and do better next time. I adored him.
Although I hugely enjoyed both the characters (major and minor) and the atmosphere of the book, I felt a bit let down by the plotting. The book first centers on the way the ship works, then on Brit and Finn’s relationship. There is a slight action thread running throughout, but when it finally comes to the fore, it feels underdeveloped. In addition, for such an experienced officer, Brit takes a long time to smell a rat. The secondary relationship, which was very sweet and funny, was a delight, but it is too little developed if it is to culminate with this book, and too much has already happened if it is to be core of a sequel – which I actually hope, in spite of my reservations.
Although Moonstruck is not perfect, it is a very enjoyable read for all those who love space romance – the Star Trek variety, not so much the Farscape variety. Finn especially is a hugely appealing hero, who alone makes reading this novel worthwhile.