Unraveled by C.J. Barry takes place on far planets and in deep space. Though it has some engaging moments, a lack of communication and some plot holes are troublesome, and its characters represent extremely familiar and well-worn stereotypes.
The heroine, for instance, is a Virginal Bluestocking. Tru Van Dyne is a member an elite group of scholars on an extremely insular university-planet called the Majj Institute. It seems that if you don’t complete some sort of important research project by the time you’re thirty, you get kicked out of the Majj, and Tru’s time is running out. Typically of bluestocking heroines, she did all her father’s research for him, but he took all the credit so that doesn’t count. Tru is hunting for a priceless treasure called the Curzon Collection, and will need to leave the Institute to find it. Instead of going to the administrators, explaining her goal and asking leave to go hunt for the treasure, Tru sneaks away.
She hires Rayce Coburne to act as her guide. He, too, is a highly familiar type: Han Solo who hunts for treasure (or Indiana Jones with a fast ship, take your pick). He hates the Majj. He doesn’t want to take Tru’s job, because he hates the Majj, but he needs the money to open up his new spaceport.
A persistent problem throughout the book is lack of communication. Tru doesn’t tell Rayce what she’s really after. Rayce doesn’t tell Tru why he hates her. When Rayce does find out about the Curzon Collection, he agrees to help Tru find it on two conditions: that he gets half, and that he gets a kiss a day.
Since she is a Virginal Bluestocking, Tru has a lot of trouble with condition #2. You see, Tru (a brilliant scholar, nearly thirty years old) had one unhappy sexual encounter, which convinced her that she is frigid. “She had acquired so much education,” she thinks, “how could she know nothing of what it took to be a woman?” Good question. This woman has apparently never read a book that featured sex in her life (she was “too embarrassed” to do that). The very first scene in the book features Tru becoming passionately aroused by a holographic image of Rayce; every time she gets close to him she practically quivers with lust. Yet she thinks she’s frigid? Tru’s air of fawnlike innocence and adolescent insecurity, which persists throughout the novel, did nothing to make me believe that she’s an intelligent adult. At one point she wonders, “Why was it every time she got caught in his eyes, she became a complete idiot?” Another good question.
Also, plot holes abound. There’s a sequence in the book in which Rayce and Tru do some navigational plotting in space that betrays a shocking disregard for actual astronomy. I don’t know very much about the stars and constellations, but I know that this doesn’t work.
In spite of my serious initial qualms, this book does make a pretty good stab at rising above its unpromising beginnings. The way that Tru and Rayce first get together is pretty inventive and interesting. The hunt for the treasure is fairly exciting and fun, leading to visits to several different planets. The love scenes are quite spicy, and as a result of their growing love, both Tru and Rayce learn some lessons and become better people.
In the end some of the things that seemed at first like plot holes are actually cleared up. For instance, I was very frustrated by the depiction of the Institute: how in the world could any university expect its students and professors to do anything useful without letting them go off planet to do research? This question was answered.
Still, Tru never grew on me, and the conflict between the hero and heroine extends when she suddenly develops a guilt complex and decides that she’s not good enough for Rayce. The lack of communication that was so prominent the beginning of the book rears its head again, as Tru doesn’t tell Rayce about her feelings – she just plans to leave him without a word.
Although Unraveled eventually becomes entertaining, it’s still a pretty mediocre romance, with two-dimensional characters and a couple of plot leaps that don’t bear close examination. If you want to read a fun and innovative romance set in an alternate reality, give Melanie Jackson’s Traveler a try, instead.
The cover of this, I might add, features a voluptuous woman in a low-cut shirt, leaning forward. Her breasts bounded out at me like eager Labrador retrievers every time I closed the book. Cover yourself, woman!