Games of Command, by Linnea Sinclair

>> Tuesday, March 27, 2007

File this one under "what have I been waiting for?". I loved Linnea Sinclair's Gabriel's Ghost (the original, e-book version), and even have a couple more of her books in my TBR. But it took Games of Command coming out and Estelle revealing a certain detail about it for me to read her again.

Can she trust a man who is half-machine?

The universe isn't what it used to be. With the new alliance between the Triad and the United Coalition, Captain Tasha "Sass" Sebastian finds herself serving under her former nemesis, bio-cybe Admiral Branden Kel-Paten—and doing her best to hide a deadly past. But when an injured mercenary falls into their ship's hands, her efforts may be wasted …

Wanted rebel Jace Serafino has information that could expose all of Sass's secrets, tear the fragile Alliance apart—and end Sass's career if Kel-Paten discovers them. But the bio-cybe has something to hide as well, something once thought impossible for his kind to possess: feelings...for Sass. Soon it's clear that their prisoner could bring down everything they once believed was worth dying for—and everything they now have to live for…
Well, wow. Spaceships! A half-robot hero! Yummy romance and a really cool plot! What more could I ask for? An A-.

The Triad and the United Coalition have just established a new alliance, and U-Cee Captain Tasha Sebastian and other members of her team have been assigned to serve on the Triad's most famous and impressive ship, the Vaxxar. The assignment is the result of a direct request made by the Triad's most famous and impressive admiral, bio-cybe Branden Kel-Paten, who commands the Vaxxar.

This is quite a big surprise for Tasha, because during the war between their two sides, she kind of made it her mission to thwart and annoy Kel-Paten as much as she could, so she can't understand why he'd want her and her people on his ship, unless it's for some nefarious purpose.

We soon find out that it's not for any nefarious purpose. Kel-Paten has been madly in love with Tasha for years, since their first encounter, and now that the war is over he's decided to make a last-ditch attempt to get close to her. He knows it won't be easy, especially because he's a bio-cybe -a kind of hybrid between man and machine-, but he needs to try.

Unfortunately, he won't be able to devote all his time only to this project, because events soon intervene. I won't go into all the plot, because there's a lot of it, but among many other things, we get vortices, a former mercenary telepath with a chip implanted in his head by a rogue Triad government agency, someone wanting to kill either Tasha, Kel-Paten or the mercenary, a trip to a strange dimension and a mysterious Bad Thing which has Tasha and her friend Eden's pet furzels very worried.

GoC is a perfect combination of sci-fi adventure and romance. The adventure is well-developed and interesting, with a fully-realized world and a plot that feels fresh. I mentioned there's a lot going on, but the action never gets confusing or feels episodic.

And, at the same time, we get great characters and great romances. Yes, romances, because we get two for the price of one. And not even really a main romance and a secondary one. Both share the spotlight. There's Tasha and Kel-Paten, and there's also Tasha's friend Eden, the doctor, and Jace, the mercenary telepath who has that little problem with the implant in his brain.

I got the feeling Tasha and Kel-Paten were a bit more important, but that might have been because I was much more interested in their romance. Eden and Jace, well, on its own, their story would have been good enough, but next to the other two, it was a bit overshadowed.

It's probably that Tasha and Kel-Paten's relationship seemed to have been tailored especially to my taste. I love virgin heroes and I love it when the hero has been hopelessly in love with the heroine for years and years. Even more, I love still-waters-run-deep heroes, those guys who seem to be cold and unflappable, but who, in reality, are a seething mass of feelings. And as a cybe, Kel-Paten was the ultimate.

I also love seeing heroes like this paired with strong, experienced heroines, and Tasha was all that. She's extremely competent, and a bit older than usual, which was great. Definitely not a low-level officer, terribly impressed by the mythical Admiral Kel-Paten, Tasha's got rank and power on her own, and the confidence of her people.

I also adored the way Sinclair wrote their relationship. When the story starts, Kel-Paten is already completely crazy about Tasha, and he's trying his best to somehow make her see him in a different light, but having trouble making her see him as more than an unemotional machine. His feelings for Tasha are so strong, that they've broken through actual programmed emotional blocks, have actually inspired him to basically hack his own mind and go around those blocks. But it's not easy, because these blocks are still active, and both that and having had them for so long make normal, regular-guy reactions and, say, banter, very hard for him. Add to that a lot of shyness and vulnerability, and getting close to Tasha is pretty much impossible.

But Kel-Paten perseveres and keeps trying, even risking being reported as a mal-functioning cybe (they're not supposed to have feelings, after all). I loved the guy to death, and seeing him struggle was heart-breaking. Every time Tasha unwittingly said something that seemed to indicate she thought of him as nothing more than a robot, I cringed, and when things finally started happening between them, I practically did a happy dance, because he so deserved to be happy.

It takes a huge thing for Tasha to see him differently. It takes her accidentally discovering how HE feels, and I liked how Sinclair showed us the evolution of Tasha's feelings since that moment. It's not a matter of her immediately loving him because she discovers he has feelings for her. No, the discovery simply makes her look at him again, and her feelings move forward from that point, and she has to overcome a huge fear of her own to get to a point in which she can return his feelings.

And as if I needed any more reasons to love this romance, Sinclair makes things better and better. For instance, how about the fact that Kel-Paten has the utmost respect for Tasha and her abilities? He doesn't go all caveman "must protect" on her, doesn't try to shield her from danger, when it's her job to face that danger. Or how about Sinclair's treatment of Tasha's secrets? Tasha has a very hush-hush past as a mercenary, something that could prove disastrous if the Triad were to find out about it, and I half feared we'd get a horrible overreaction when they were finally revealed, but Sinclair took a wholly different tack with that. They're revealed at the precisely right point, and Kel-Paten's reactions are perfect.

The only thing about how Tasha and Kel-Paten were written that wasn't perfectly wonderful was that I would have liked to know more about them. I mean, Sinclair painted them both so well that I felt I knew the people they were now, but I remain very curious about their past, because about that, we get nothing more than what amounts to some very tantalizing hints. Just what is Tasha's story, how did she become Lady Sass, the mercenary? What brought her to that point? Just what happened on Lethant? (I couldn't help but think of Gabriel's Ghost, and the heroine's experiences at the beginning of it)

And Kel-Paten, there's a reference to him having been a perfectly regular human until age 16 (or 17? can't remember exactly), when they turned him into a biocybe, and I somehow got the impression that it wasn't a wholly voluntary process. Just what happened there? Is it related to the other reference we get much later in the book about his being so-and-so's brother? There just seems to be so much story behind these two characters, and I wanted to know more!

Paragraphs and paragraphs, and I still haven't talked about Jace and Eden at all! See what I mean when I say the other two overshadowed them? I might not have paid enough attention to them, really, because in all their scenes, I kept wishing the action would move back to the other romance. Plus, there just wasn't all that much tension there. They fall in love very quickly, and after that, the only thing keeping them apart is the external problems. I was actually more interested in seeing the development of the relationship between Jace and Kel-Paten (they pretty much hate each other at first sight) and the warm friendship between Tasha and Eden.

If not for two things, I would have gone for a straight A with this book. One was that the ending felt a bit rushed. The problem wasn't that we didn't get a "perfect" HEA ending. I mean, we do get a great HEA love relationship-wise, but the situation is not one where these two couples will simply spend their life with no more worries other than loving each other. What's going on around them, in their universe, is still pretty huge, and very much unsettled. I wouldn't be surprised if we got a sequel, maybe with another couple, showing us how this struggle proceeds.

Ok, I got a bit sidetracked here. The thing is, some very huge things happen in the last few pages. Enormous, world-changing things, and I felt they got short-thrift. They were over in about 10 pages of my ebookwise, and that's probably no more than 4 or 5 in a regular paperback. This is a long book (over 500 pages, according to what I see in amazon), so it's not like 20 more pages were going to make a difference, and in this, they were needed.

The second negative... I feel evil for saying it, but those furzels, they were nauseatingly cute. They didn't belong in this very grown-up story, they belonged in a 12-year-old girl's Mary Sue fanfic. I understand the role they played in the plot, and that was great, but their voices needed to be toned down drastically. It's a shame, because they had the potential of being good cute.

But hey, all that wasn't big enough to make even a dent in my enjoyment of this book. Sinclair is an author I'll definitely be watching. I'll also be hoping she's so successful that she can single-handedly create a renaissance in the subgenre of sci-fi romance. Meanwhile, I'll be reading Accidental Goddess, and waiting for her next book to come out.


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