Science Fiction/Fantasy and Romance go together perfectly in my opinion, and nobody combines the two better than Jayne Castle. Orchid is the third in Castle’s St. Helens space colony series, and the best of the lot.
Orchid Adams is, like the heroines from the other two books in the series (Amaryllis and Zinnia) a top psychic for Psynergy Inc. in a world where psychic ability is commonplace. Nearly everyone on St. Helens has some psychic ability, but needs some sort of a prism or focus to use the ability to its full potential. Orchid is a very powerful prism, and therefore works for an agency that hires out her prism services to psychics who need a focus for a short period of time, such as a techno-psychic, who has a project to develop, or a hypno-psychic, who is doing a therapy session.
Rafe Stonebraker is a strat-talent; his psychic ability helps him to use all of his senses to the fullest, which means he makes a pretty good PI, at least unofficially, as a hobby. He has made his fortune, and is now ready to take the family shipping business over from his long-time estranged grandfather who is fighting a hostile takeover from a cousin of Rafe’s. The only problem is, in a world like St. Helens where the family is looked at as the basis of society and marriages are arranged through agencies, in order for the board to accept his CEO bid, he needs a wife. Both Rafe and Orchid are off-the-chart talents, and therefore difficult for a marriage agency to match. Rafe, confident in his skills as a PI, decides to search for a wife himself while the agency he hires is trying to find one for him. He systematically hires high-charted prisms from various psychic agencies, and finally comes upon Orchid. She hates his favorite poets, she writes vampire-psychic books for a living when not using her prism abilities, and they squabble like cats and dogs, and yet he finds that she is perfect for him, much to his surprise. In order to spend time with her, he continues to hire her as a prism, and together they work to try to solve a robbery and a murder while he attempts to convince her that they were made for each other.
First off, let me say that I loved this book and I plan to reread it again soon. The plot is a perfect blend of romance and suspense with a bit of humor thrown in. The hero is one of my favorite kinds – single minded, passionate, and a bit of a control freak (not pertaining to the heroine) – and isn’t there something to be said for heroes that walk a bit on the wild side? The heroine is argumentative, independent, and has a great temper. There is lots of well-written dialogue between the hero and heroine. As for sex, well, this couple is hot together. Wow. JAK in her other pseudonyms may be cutting back on the intimacy, but in her St. Helens books she is definitely at top form when it comes to passion.
Why is it not a keeper? A few nitpicky things. Castle can create worlds that are wonderfully believable, but I had a few problems with this one. For one, it seems the colonists on St. Helens couldn’t think of names of their own for plants and animals on this New World, thus they used a mixture of Earth terms to name them. Now, I can see naming cities after Earth cities to be reminded of where they came from, like New Seattle or New Portland. But if I were a colonist, I would want to create new names for the stuff around me, like tuffle-headed bufflepuff, which is admittedly very bad, but better than cat-dog, duck-puffin, or, (and I’m not kidding) chick-turk. Also, it seems in this world there is a wondrous substance known as jelly-ice, which is used for lighting, running autos and microwaves, and many other things. Very creative. But as I was reading, I was wondering “what the heck is this stuff?” It is seen everywhere, but never described enough for me to picture it. Third, in a colony created on a planet where everything from Earth but the colonists themselves was destroyed by the environment, colonists wouldn’t be wearing jeans, sweatshirts, or blazers, at least in my mind. Lastly, I couldn’t give it an A for this line alone: “In an exuberant frenzy of happy lust…” – need I say more?
Not too many authors have attempted to create a whole New World for Romance, and none that I have read have reached Jayne Castle’s skill. The culture on St. Helens is fascinating (albeit a bit on the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo side) and the people are interesting. Not a bad place to visit for an afternoon, with a cup of coff-tea. I hope that Ms. Castle keeps them coming.