>> Monday, May 16, 2005
Nothing to fear...or is there?A thoroughly enjoyable book, a B+.
Imperial patrolship captain Chasidah Bergren has more trouble than she needs. Stripped of command in a sham court-martial and sent to the harsh prison world of Moabar, her life can't possibly get any worse.
Until she's rescued by smuggler Gabriel Ross Sullivan, her former nemesis and almost lover. A dead man with a mission. He offers her freedom in exchange for her help in stopping an illegal genetics experiment that's already claimed far too many lives. And could place the Empire on the brink of civil war.
But Chaz doesn't know that Sully's a ghost with a deadly, dark secret. A secret she was trained to hate and fear; one she may have to risk her life and her heart to protect.
This is exactly the type of futuristic I love to read (my love for Jayne Ann Krentz's notwithstanding). No innocent, virginal, healer heroines, no barbarian heroes, no Medieval-like societies, not even magical sex to save the world! It also wasn't one in which the protagonists were royalty or emperors or other kinds of rulers of their worlds, fighting to remake their entire societies. I've been known to enjoy books like that, but I confess to preferring those in which the characters are regular-ish people who simply live in their world, even if, like in Gabriel's Ghost, the mission they undertake has pretty big implications.
The story is told in first-person by Chasidah, and this works perfectly because she's quite a wonderful character. She's a tough, no-nonsense Fleet officer, who always acts very much like a tough, no-nonsense Fleet officer. She doesn't lack any femininity, but Baker doesn't try to make her "female" by making her do stupid stuff like going to pieces and becoming inept under pressure, cry a lot or become a hyper-nurturer of any single fuzzy creature she comes along.
Gabriel is a to-die-for hero. He's a guy who has quite a few secrets, and he has a very hard time revealing all of them. He tells Chasidah stuff very slowly, tiny bit by tiny bit, only when he has no choice but to do so. This would have made me want to slap him in most cases (how dare he demand Chaz's complete trust when he refuses to even answer questions about what he is?), but here, I found it understandable. His secrets are pretty huge, and he's absolutely right in his prediction of how their revelation will be taken by everyone, even by Chaz.
In fact, the way Chaz reacted to every successive revelation was very well-done. She wasn't blindly accepting of everything. Her first reactions were often shock and, at times, even fear. It took some reassuring (which she mostly did herself, but sometimes took other people to do it) for her to wholly accept Gabriel again, but she always did it and she really did wholly accept him, without any reservations. Given the nature of the things Gabriel could do, this was no small matter.
I simply adored Gabriel and Chaz's relationship. There's a lot that should have felt like corniness there, and I guess it would feel like that to most people, but it melted me into a puddle. Stuff like Gabriel calling Chaz "Chasidah. Angel.", or the scenes in which he accesses the inner man (Gabriel, as opposed to Sully) and refers to himself in the third-person... I had the feeling I should be retching, but I thought it was sooo romantic. Even more romantic was their backstory, the way Chaz gradually starts realizing that what she had always thought was a very adversarial relationship wasn't so much adversarial as a kind of foreplay, how Gabriel hadn't thought of her as an "interfering bitch", but was actually crazy about her all that time.
There's a lot of action, but having them spend quite a bit of time in transit in their ship gives the romance more than enough time to develop. Both it and the actual action and worldbuilding were great. And speaking of the world-building, it was definitely much more rigorous than I'm used to in futuristic romance. That's excellent, though I confess I was sometimes a bit lost with the terminology, something I suspect I would have been perfectly fine with if I had more experience with "hard" SF.
Apart from her protagonists, Baker creates a varied and well-written cast of secondary characters. It took me a while to sort them out (that Ren was a storloth while Verno was a taka, that Brother Sudral was actually Gabriel's Englarian name, and so on and so forth), but I soon got used to it. I especially liked Chaz's instant bond with Ren.
I'm going to do a bit of research and see if there's any sequel to this. While Chaz and Gabriel get their HEA, and they do succeed in their mission, it's a partial success. Not every string is tied in a big bow and it's made clear that the struggle will continue.