Desert Isle Keeper
The Lost Stars
Note: This book was originally titled Quantum and is referred to as such throughout this review.
Quantum is the second book in the Atrophy series by Jess Anastasi. If you’ve been missing science fiction TV shows like Star Trek’s Voyager and Enterprise, Battlestar Galactica, or Firefly, this series will remind you of everything you love about science fiction romance. It’s got aliens, advanced technology, and dedicated starship crews. And if you’ve never picked up a science fiction romance before, you’d be well advised to start with a series like this one. With a complete couple romance and a happy for now ending in each story, it’s easy to pick up any one and dive right in. While each novel can stand alone, you’ll get the maximum benefit if you start at the beginning as the overall story arc begins in book one of the series, Atrophy/The Last Sky, and will continue until the conclusion.
Like many science fiction and fantasy novels, there are several characters that feature intricately in the plot. Rian is the captain of the Imojenna starship, a former decorated Inter-Planetary Coalition (IPC) captain who is now on the run, accused of being a terrorist. After surviving the Assimilation Wars, he was captured and tortured by an alien species, as yet unknown to the human race, called the Reidar. They’ve conditioned in him the desire to wreak havoc and destruction, an overwhelming darkness he feels to the depths of his soul. But he fights against it every day. Members of his current crew include his sister Zahli, her partner Tannin, and Ella, an Aryn priestess whose telepathic powers are sought after. Ella is able to see the darkness in Rian and they’ve developed an emotional link that scares him – because without that darkness he fears he won’t be able to complete his mission. And that mission is one of revenge, against the species that held him captive. The Reidar are in the midst of a plan of universal domination, whereby they have been killing off high ranking military and government officials and replacing them with alien replicas. Only Rian and his crew know what’s happening. The problem is they don’t know who has already been replaced. Rian has a list of names, and one of them is his former military colleague Zander, now a Captain Admiral in the IPC. To that end, Rian has convinced his friend Mae, a former IPC soldier now on leave from the Universal Armed Forces Agency (UAFA) to infiltrate Zander’s crew with a fake assignment as Zander’s new assistant. Mae must determine whether Zander is human or has been replaced with an alien clone. But when Mae starts her assignment with Zander, things go off the rails very quickly. Someone is trying to kill them, but neither is sure who is the target. And to top it off, Zander and Mae can’t deny that there is an attraction between them. With the fate of humanity in his hands, Rian will stop at nothing to take down the Reidar even at the cost of his own life and those of his friends.
Just like in the old Star Trek shows, it’s never a good idea to get too attached to secondary characters as you don’t know exactly who is going to make it to the end of the episode. (Those poor red-shirted ensigns!) The same goes here. From the very start this is an action packed adventure, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader flipping pages as fast as possible, while trying to slow down enough to appreciate the world building and the care that has gone into creating the universe as it stands. The story has excellent descriptions of the spaceships involved, and the technology, while standard in most science fiction stories such as replicators and stun guns, still has unique characteristics to make it stand out. (I particularly like concept of the extravagance of real coffee beans versus repli-coffee).
The story is told from three points of view. As the key holding things together and the impetus for the plan to expose the Reidar, Rian gets equal page time with Zander and Mae. While he comes across as a dark and bitter man, he’s not without a conscience and tries desperately to keep control of his emotions. If ever a soldier suffered from PTSD, he’s it. There is plenty of sexual tension between him and Ella, the only woman to have penetrated his shields, (figuratively and literally) with her telepathic powers. They fairly smolder when on the page, and the link between them is sure to continue being a key part of the series. Rian can’t stand to be touched physically – except by Ella, whose hands on him also create the only mental peace that he knows. There’s been no real intimacy between them yet, but it’s coming. Rian has a short list of supporters; his crew and his cousin Qae, a space pirate (but don’t call him that to his face) who runs his own ship and gets dragged into the quagmire of Rian’s mission. Rian is a fascinating character and I enjoyed his point of view quite a lot.
The other two viewpoints come from the main romantic couple of this novel, Zander and Mae. Poor Mae! Not only does her first meeting with Zander result in some hair raising experiences, it also is very discomfiting for her to be attracted to a man she isn’t sure is actually human! This doubt colors all their initial interactions. Zander isn’t suspicious of Mae until he starts thinking of the timing of her arrival, and just knows something isn’t quite right. Being attracted to her, a woman technically his subordinate, is also a serious problem for Zander. But when the two of them find themselves marooned in a life or death situation, the natural human desire to be comforted becomes a heated affair. The sex scenes are well written without being overdone and definitely fit with the story. If Zander has a flaw, it’s that he’s been conditioned to follow military rule his whole adult life. Time and time again it’s Mae who comes to his rescue, able to think outside the box quickly and decisively. They are both strong characters but have different strengths, enough to make them a solid partnership. The question is whether they can learn to really trust each other, given the deceit with which their relationship starts.
Eventually the main characters converge and Rian’s plans start to be put into effect. Time is running out for him to do something before the Reidar are too numerous to control. Zander and Mae get their happy ending, but the story isn’t over. The combination of the all too human emotions experienced by Rian and his crew, combined with the science fiction aspects of the story, and the action packed and sometimes intense plot makes Quantum an exciting read.