Title: Gabriel’s Ghost
Author: Linnea Sinclair
Genre: Sci-fi Romance
Stand Alone or Series: Book one of a trilogy around the central characters
Summary: (from amazon.com)
After a decade of cruising interstellar patrol ships, former Captain Chasidah Bergren, onetime Pride of the Sixth Fleet, finds herself court-martialed for a crime she didn’t commit—and shipped off to a remote prison planet from which no one ever escapes. But when she kills a brutal guard in an act of self-defense, someone even more dangerous emerges from the shadows. Gabriel Sullivan—alpha mercenary, smuggler, and rogue—is supposed to be dead. Yet now this seductive ghost from Chaz’s past is offering her a ticket to freedom—for a price. Someone in the Empire is secretly breeding jukors: vicious and uncontrollable killing machines that have long been outlawed. Gabriel needs Chaz to help him stop the practice before it decimates imperial space. For Chaz, it’s a matter of survival. For Sully it means facing the truth about who—and what—he really is. The mission means putting their lives on the line—but the tensions that heat up between them may be the riskiest part of all.
Ana: I read the first 40 pages and was prepared to quit reading. It starts with the Strong Heroine, in dire straights, being rescued by The Rogue Hero, who wants her help to bring down The Evil Empire – there is even The Space Ship and the Band Of Brothers. I was like, oh noes, not another one. But because I am nothing if not resilient, I kept going and I am glad I did, because the book turned out to be a very gripping read, and I ended up liking it very much. Although I thought of this book more as a romance than as a sci-fi story, both were equally well done in my opinion. I wouldn’t say it is the most original book out there, readers of both sci fi and romance will probably recognize the over-used premise and the mechanisms of a Alpha Male-His Female relationship. But the book is well written, the sci-fi gimmicks are cool and well described, there are a few surprising twists and interesting underlying religious themes and above all, a Desert Island worthy Hero.
Thea: I actually almost put this book down as well when I first started it–having only recently read the debacle (in my opinion) that was Grimspace, I was loathe to read an eerily similar story. However. As Ana said, we are resilient, and I would not give up without a fight! Certainly I had finished much worse a book, and decided to give Ms. Sinclair an honest chance…and I am so very glad I did. While Grimspace and this book share an amount of similarities, Gabriel’s Ghost delivers on all the levels that Ms. Aguirre’s book falls flat on–and lumping both those books together would be doing a disservice to Gabriel’s Ghost. This is most certainly a romance at its core–but when you have characters that are this compelling, in a world that makes sense with some heftier background themes and a strong plot, what more could you really ask for!? While the romance theme is strong, there is also a strong sci-fi element; more along the lines of Star Wars or Star Trek. Even though those examples do not employ “science” per se nor do they follow the rules of physics, we love them anyways because of the characters and the all-encompassing plot. Gabriel’s Ghost fits firmly in this category, and is a highly enjoyable, quick read.
On the plot
Former Fleet Captain Chasidah Bergem (Chaz for short) has been accused and court-marshaled for a crime she did not commit. Sent to Moabar, an outer rim prison planet that is impossible to escape from, she had only recently arrived when danger meets her head-on. As the book opens she had just been attacked by a Takan, one of the furry creatures who work as prison guards (think Wookie). Narrowly avoiding rape by killing the Takan guard, Chaz hears the voice of a Ghost. She finds herself in the dark with none other than Gabriel “Sully” Sullivan–wealthy poet turned mercenary, who everyone thought was dead for the past two years…and with whom Chaz had a passing fling, years before. As a Captain of a Fleet ship, Chaz has met and pursed Sully’s shenanigans many times in the past in a game of cat and mouse. What in the world is Sully doing there? To rescue her, making an offer she can’t refuse – he will help her escape from Moabar if she helps him with his mission. Chaz, while no smuggler or pirate, is down on her luck and prospects…and then a murderous killing creature, known as a Jukor, arrives on the scene. Jukors are nearly invincible, and they are vile, evil creatures–for this reason, they have been outlawed throughout the Empire. So, when one happens upon Chaz and Sully, Chaz is beside herself with fear. Sully manages to take it down, but it becomes clear that he knows something about the Jukors, and that her recruitment for his mission is involved with this somehow.
Still on Moabar, the pair moves to a Takan monastery where they must wait for a couple of hours before they can board the shuttle that will take them to their ship. There she meets his friend and crew member, Ren. Chaz is terrified. Ren is a Stolorth, a humanoid alien who, she was taught back at the Academy, have telepathic powers that can wipe people’s minds. Stolorths are feared all over the universe. But Ren, being blind – Stolorths need to have eye contact to use their powers – is quite harmless albeit still with some degree of telepathy and empathy. Even tough she is rather uneasy, she accepts his presence and is then informed of what their mission entails. Someone has been breeding Jukors through raping and imprisoning unwilling Takan females. What’s more is, a Jukor’s birth is along the lines of the movie Alien–the gestation period occurs in the female Taka’s body, and when the baby has reached full size, it eats and claws its way out of the host, killing her. The gen-lab is situated in the Markers Shipyards, halfway across the galaxy. This is the reason for Chaz’s involvement as she grew up in Markers, and as an adept pilot she knows her way around the shipyard, through both legitimate and less legitimate channels.
And this is how the most interfering bitch of the galaxy and the most handsome of bastards must face in numerous perils, get around the galaxy without being captured, to try to destroy their target whilst at the same time, dealing with their undeniable feelings for each other – feelings that have been in limbo for the past few years when they were on opposite sides of the law but that now must be dealt with. But not before some unsettling truths about who or what Sully really is come to surface.
Ana: If at first things appeared to be just the same old space romp storyline, I was soon sucked into the story. I thought the development of the plot was very well done, especially for the detailed descriptions of the sci fi aspects. For example how everything inside the spaceship had a place or number or a name. I liked the fact that Chaz had a wrist knife that was described and explained with minutia. I think this is where part of the strength of the book lies – that Mrs Sinclair can start with a premise that has been used several times but build interesting and unexpected twists on top of that. There are also religious undertones to the plot with the exploration of blindness fanaticism against things that people don’t comprehend and don’t care to understand, giving room to the more painful and heart wrenching aspects of the story.
The action sequences were very well done, specially the final one, my heart was pounding on my chest. I LOVE the fact that things were not miraculously resolved in the end – quite the contrary, there is a setback to their mission which has turned even more dangerous now.
And that is only the sci-fi aspect – the romantic storyline was amazing. Again my first impression was to roll my eyes at the fact that things were happening too quickly, that them getting together was just out there too soon and too fast but it became clear that those feelings have been there for a long, long time. Every single thing, development and small detail of their relationship , be it their conversations, or the more physical aspects have a reason and an explanation. Nothing is there by chance. I love that.
Thea: I am a sucker for a good plot–and Ms. Sinclair does it with flair. As Ana says, the book follows all the conventions–both scifi and romantic. The Evil Empire, the damaged Hero, the understanding yet strong heroine. I am one of those of the belief that highly original “new” ideas are incredibly hard to come by, and even if the premise is hardly groundbreaking, the writing, the characters, and the level of detail Ms. Sinclair injects into her universe make it all worth it. The “what” is a given–it’s the “how” that captures us.
Certainly there are some annoying repetitive phrases (the interfering beautiful bitch and handsome bastard use gets a little tiresome after a while, and should I ever see and angel hearts stars card I will torch that sucker into oblivion), but the author has a distinct, almost spoken-word poetic style to her writing that you can’t help but admire. Ms. Sinclair is incredibly deliberate with each of her sentences–and this follows for the plotting as well. Everything is there for a reason, and all those reasons will be revealed in due time. I love it when an author picks up all the seemingly innocuous story lines and leaves no loose ends, and Ms. Sinclair falls firmly into this category.
Romantically, I’ll preface my opinion by stating I am not a romantic person by nature. I laugh through love scenes. I find the word “nipple” hilarious. It takes a lot to win my romantic vote. That said, I can safely add Chaz and Sully to the list of couples that I found myself gunning for the whole way. Again, as Ana mentioned, there was the initial fear that the attraction between Chaz and Sully was going to be some stupid too-much-too-fast type of deal. To be perfectly frank, I find this a common falling in many romantic stories. Either there’s some animal attraction thing going on, scenting each other from across the room eyes meeting and widening with lust, or in paranormal romances there’s this popular concept of soulmates or truemates or vampirebrides or whatever scenting their mate and then embarking on a 300 pg long journey to posses said mate at any cost! Which is fine, it just doesn’t particularly appeal to me as a reader.
Gabriel’s Ghost manages to avoid this pitfall–it becomes painfully clear that Sully has had a huge crush on Chaz forEVER. Placing himself in her path when they were on opposite sides of the law, trying to charm her. Chaz also has some feelings there, but it’s hardly animal lust or head-over-heels luuuurve. The way they deal with their feelings takes the entire book, and there are many layers of mistrust, fear, and half-truths that feel remarkably real. Sure there’s the growly Mine! thoughts, and a good dose of the usual romantic standbys and a few love scenes which bug…but the actual interaction between the characters and the clever plotting make the romance tangible, and worth rooting for.
On the characters
Ana: The book is narrated in first person by Chaz and I quite liked her voice and her mental processes. She is not smart-ass or extremely heroic – she tried not to jump to conclusions but analyses the facts and her feelings about them. She is a strong person who do not delve in self-misery over her past and who tries to get on with her life – she also has no problems with accepting her feelings for Sully even though some aspects of their relationship disturbs her. I quite like Chaz but not near as much as I liked Sully.
Even though the story is narrated in first person by Chaz, to me, the main character is really Gabriel – his story and what he truly is are central to the plot, central to the emotional development of all characters. The fact that I love him so much also means I am back to true form, siding up with the hero over the heroine. I liked how tortured he was – how he wasn’t at all what Chaz always thought him to be and what we , readers first think of him. He was not the most straight-forward of characters, being all secretive and not forth-coming with some very important truths but that was only because he was a true tortured Alpha Male who is vulnerable and shaken by his own fears. I just wanted to be the one cuddling him in my arms.
With regards to the secondary characters: Ren was by far my favourite. I enjoyed reading the interactions between Chaz and him. Their scenes together were very sweet (specially the ones where they braid each other’s hairs) and served to tackle the interesting aspects of what means to be a telepath.
Thea: In a book like this, the characters count towards a lot. And I found myself in love with Chaz, Sully, and Ren. I adored that Chaz actually is NOT an “Alpha Female” stereotype. She is strong, but she isn’t some badmouthing idiot rushing into fights and making multiple bad decisions. She is more subdued than many heroines I have read recently, and the distinction makes her all the more attractive. She has been a Fleet officer and captain for much of her life, and it shows in the way she knows how to deal with other characters. Whereas many Fantasy heroines can come off as abrasive superwomen, Chaz comes off as a real woman. And I like that.
This is one time I will side with Ana though–while Chaz is narrating the story, the focus and main protagonist has to be Sully. Sully, with his tortured past and dark soul (and trust me, unlike the few romance novels I’ve read, the reason for his torture actually holds water–heck holds an ocean! It’s much more devastating than daddy issues or having a stutter). Although I don’t particularly want to be the one cuddling him in my arms (that is a whole lot of drama to be dealing with), I liked the complexity of this character–and even more so, I loved how we only learn about his nature haltingly, as Ms. Sinclair takes her time peeling back layer after layer of his protective wall.
The character of Ren is also a gooder. Although he seems ultimately to be the typical too-good-to-live-through-the-book, handicapped innocent heart…well, let’s face it, he is…Ren is a sweetheart. The classic standbys are classic standbys for a reason–and again, Ms. Sinclair manages to pull at my heartstrings.
I also felt the cast of villains and other tertiary characters were surprisingly well done. The other shipmates (especially the cook, Dorsie), the evil villains, people that were involved in Chaz’s life before her incarceration (I won’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil)–they all were excellently done.
Final Observations, Recommendations and Rating:
Ana: This one is a winner – good plot without lose ends but still open for more developments, an amazing hero, an easy-to-relate to heroine and some well written secondary characters. A fantastic blend of SciFi and Romance that I highly recommend. Can’t wait to read book 2, Shades of Dark that comes out in July.
Thea: Regarding the religious subplot–I felt it was done wonderfully as well. There are many separate-yet-intertwined lines to this book, and I can only applaud the author for her carefully planned and plotted work. Also, I have to admire Ms. Sinclair’s restraint from some contrived happy ever after ending or trying to wrap everything up in one book. I cannot wait until I get my hands on the sequel–there is so much left to discover!
Ana: Love this part, when they were making love for the first time:
“and then I swear three suns went nova, half a galaxy was blown away and the universe shifted at least a hundred feet from where it had been before”.
Thea: I loved the portion after Chaz and Sully’s big first fight, where Chaz stands up for herself. Sully always says that his weakness is that he cannot tell flat out lies, and promises Chaz that he would never ever hurt her. Chaz responds by asking him, how could he know what would hurt her? He never bothered to ask.
Ana: 8 Excellent!
Thea: 7 Very Good
Reading next: Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost.