Jessie Mihalik starts off a brand-new space opera saga with Polaris Rising, the first book in The Consortium Rebellion series.
They meet in prison. Technically, the holding cell of a mercenary ship. Both have been picked up for the value of their bounties. Ada von Hasenberg is a princess on the run. Her only value to her powerful family is as a marital pawn and that’s a role she refuses to play. When she became a runaway bride by taking off into the cosmos prior to the formal engagement, her family put a price on her head in an effort to bring her to heel.
Marcus Loch is an anti-hero of the Fornax Rebellion and one of the most wanted men in the galaxy. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, he’s said to have killed his superior officers at a crucial point during the war. The Consortium longs to make an example of him. At the very least, they want to execute him for his crimes. They’re offering a ridiculous sum of money for his return.
Ada and Marcus are cautiously determining whether they will be allies or enemies when the unexpected happens. Ada’s fiancé finds the mercenary ship she’s on. He comes aboard and begins to kill the mercenaries without discretion. Ada uses the ensuing chaos to get herself and Marcus off the ship. Offering him a fortune to help her continue running, the two jet off into the stars, not sure where they’re going but increasingly confident they want to get there together.
AAR staffers Shannon Dyer and Maggie Boyd are here to share their thoughts on this sci-fi tale.
Maggie: This book came across as far more romance novel than science fiction book to me, especially since it used standard tropes like the reluctant/runaway bride and lust at first sight. The light tone, in spite of the dark circumstances, also lent it that impression. Would you agree with that assessment?
Shannon: I certainly would. I wasn’t particularly bothered by the use of common tropes, but I did wish for stronger worldbuilding to give the book that science fiction feel I was hoping for.
Maggie: Yes, the world building was rather superficial here. Our heroine, Ada, is a very competent young woman whose skill set is given some credibility because of her wealth and childhood training as a spy. However, overall, she struck me as being from romance central casting. In fact, if I had to describe her top five characteristics, they would be the same as those included on a list titled How to Write a Daring Heroine on a popular writing site. What did you think of her?
Shannon: I loved that Ada wasn’t a shrinking violet, but I would have liked to see her think things through before dashing headlong into situations she really wasn’t prepared for. To me, that would have lent a great deal of credence to her supposed competence. I didn’t always feel she was truly using all the training she had had as a child.
Maggie: Moving on to the hero, Marcus: I thought he was a pretty stock romance hero, complete with a tragic backstory. In fact, I guessed what that backstory was and who was involved within a few chapters of meeting him.
Shannon: Marcus was a little too overbearing for my liking. He was extremely possessive of Ada shortly after they met, and that didn’t ring true for me. Also, while I agree with you that his backstory was pretty standard, I got the impression the author kind of glossed over it rather than allowing the reader to see it in detail. I came away from the book knowing way more about Ada than about Marcus.
Maggie: The emphasis here was on the romance but before we go there, let’s talk about the plot. Yet again we were treated to a plucky band of misfits battling an evil empire, perhaps the most popular plot in sci-fi ever. There is a mildly interesting mystery regarding the heroine’s dowry thrown in, but it was bland as vanilla to me. Other than that, the plot just progressed from point to point exactly as I expected it to.
Shannon: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. There wasn’t much to set this novel apart from the rest of the science fiction romances out there. The story had a lot of potential for uniqueness, but the author didn’t take any chances. She stuck to the tried and true plot devices, and I simply wasn’t satisfied.
Maggie: Back to the romance. I found that to be the most humdrum part of a very humdrum book. There was no surprise there, and the buildup of the relationship seemed to follow a standard checklist of romance novel expectations. I never got why Ada loved Marcus more than Rhys. One could argue chemistry – but their chemistry didn’t sizzle off the page for me. Did it for you?
Shannon: Ada and Marcus seemed to have a very rewarding sex life, but that’s about all I can say for their relationship. It was a simple case of insta-love, and I really wasn’t a fan. I never got the impression they knew enough about one another to really know they were in love.
Maggie: What was your take on the secondary characters? I liked them initially but towards the end of the story, some choices were made that seemed to ignore an important commitment in Veronica’s life. That moved both her and Rhys from typical to slightly less so in my esteem.
Shannon: I’m intrigued by both Veronica and Rhys. In fact, I might consider reading future books in this series if I they’re going to be the main characters. Both seem to have led colorful lives, and I’d love to know more about them. I’m also quite curious about Ada’s sister Bianca, and I think book two focuses on her.
Maggie: I would agree their lives are colorful, I just struggled with some of Veronica’s decision making. And that relationship was definitely insta-love. One thing I always look for in a tale is what makes it fit into its setting. In other words, how do time and place affect the story being told? Could I change the word “planet” for the word “country” and with just a little tweaking have a story that could take place in the past or present? I felt that was very true here. The story didn’t pull very much from its setting. It’s a tale that, with minimal tweaking, could take place anywhere, at any time.
Shannon: I can’t help but agree with you. This story could have been set in any time and any place. The worldbuilding was practically nonexistent. I felt a certain amount of distance from the characters and the setting, making it hard for me to remain engaged.
Maggie: Overall, I give this a C-. The heroine was never in genuine peril, the plot was generic and so were the characters and world building. What pulled the grade down below average was the failure to really utilize the setting, and the issues with Veronica. How about you?
Shannon: This was just average for me, so I give it a C. I was intrigued by the synopsis, but the novel never managed to really pique my interest. It was an enjoyable enough way to spend an afternoon or evening, but nothing really elevated it to the level of something I’d wholeheartedly recommend. I might pick up future installments, but there’s no guarantee.