I have basically two responses to a book I absolutely, ridiculously love. I either make tons of highlights because I just love every single line of prose, or I highlight almost nothing because I’m too caught up in the story. This book is definitely of the second variety. It also hits all of the right notes for me, with a focus on found family, a twisty plot, and just enough romance to keep my HEA-loving heart interested.
“I’m a bounty hunter. I hunt criminals and murderers; I don’t work for them.”
In the few years since the decades-spanning war between the Valovians and the Federated Human Planets ended, Tavi and the remainder of her squad have made a life as bounty hunters. Considering they’re not willing to take the morally grey missions, it keeps them fed – barely – so when a Valovian general offers a ridiculous amount of money for them to recover a missing item, they agree, despite having to enter Valovian space to find it. And while things get off to a rocky start, Torran and his crew seem like generally good people. But Tavi isn’t a fool, and she knows that Torran isn’t telling them the whole story. When the reality turns out to be even worse than they anticipated, will the consequences of their actions lead to a new war?
Hunting down the item is the focus of much of the twisty plot, but it takes about half of the book before Tavi and crew are able to start the job they’re hired for in earnest. Those pages aren’t wasted, though. They’re used to build the relationship between Tavi’s crew and the Volvians, to show us what kind of people Tavi and Torran are and all the rough edges the war has left on all of them. And while this book is full of enough action to warm my scifi-battle-loving heart, where it really excels is these character relationships. Through chores, binge-watching shows and communal meals, the two crews bond and figure out that while cultural differences can still trip them up, they’re a lot more similar than they thought. I especially loved the focus on food as a source of community, on how cooking is a form of care and how that care can form the basis of trust and (just maybe) love.
“If I needed help burying a body, Eli would silently grab a shovel and start digging while Kee erased all evidence of the crime.
I would do the same for them.”
As for the individual characters, I especially loved Tavi’s crew. Kee and Eli are polar opposites, with Kee being a rainbow-haired ray of sunshine while Eli’s the smoldering pessimist, but there’s no doubt they care deeply for each other even if they disagree. As for Luna, the fourth member of the crew? Well, Kee beat her out as my favorite, but just barely. Torran’s crew also had some interesting characters, but as the story is told solely from Tavi’s first person POV, we don’t get the same depth of familiarity with them as with her crew.
As for the romance, like the recovery plot, it’s extremely slow burn. After all, at the start of the book, they’re essentially mortal enemies, as both are considered heroes by their people and war criminals (at best) by the other’s. It takes a lot of work to build up the level of trust necessary to turn that into a believable HEA, and the author did that phenomenally well. Valovian culture has an interesting take on apologies, one that forces Tavi to confront some of her own issues, and there’s also a focus on consent that was seamless and quite sweet.
Overall, I adored this book, and I am beyond glad that the next in the series is coming out this year. This author gets better with every book and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.