CBR14Bingo – New: Though Jennifer Estep’s had a long and prolific writing career, this is the first book of hers that I’ve read.
This popped up as a recommendation for me several times on Facebook and Amazon (apparently our AI overlords know that I love sci-fi romance!). So when I saw it was finally released, I couldn’t resist picking it up. While it’s overall a very enjoyable first addition to the series, there were also several things that didn’t quite work for me.
Vesper works in R&D for a corporation run by a powerful Regal family, one of the elites of the Imperium. While she’s full of ideas for everything from improving brewmakers to weapons, a power hungry ex stole most of her ideas and has used the promotion to keep her sidelined. When she identifies a flaw in the new line of Starcruisers, she runs afoul of the Regals… and then she meets Kyrion. The soldier’s convinced she’s useless at best and a spy at worst, but after she saves his life, it seems he’s stuck with her. With a conspiracy threatening to topple the Imperium itself, can Vesper and Kyrion find a way to work together, or will their distrust ruin their chances of preventing disaster?
The blurb lists it “space opera meets Bridgerton.” Definitely space opera, yes, as it’s more focused on the characters than whizbang gadgets, but the Bridgerton bit is a harder sell for me. Is it because of the Regals, houses with psion powers like telekinesis and empathy? The fact that there’s a scene with carriages (for no discernible reason)? And while it teases enemies-to-lovers and soul mate tropes, this is definitely more sci-fi with a strong romantic plot line rather than sci-fi romance. It also appears like the series will be following the one couple, so assume from that what you will about the HEA state at the end of this book.
I generally liked Vesper though I found her a bit uneven character-wise. She’s smart enough to not panic and think her way out of a bad situation but not smart enough to realize that pushing her findings about a deadly crash will make her a company liability. She also has a magician’s bag of magical powers, from a talent for fixing things (which I thought was super cool!) to supposed perfect recall (which only came up a couple of times honestly, in very deus ex machina ways) to, well, some other spoilery things. My favorite thing about her, though, was that every time she realized she’d ended up in a bad situation (again) she didn’t wail and gnash her teeth, she got angry (and, eventually, she gets even).
Kyrion is the epitome of the Bad Boy Regal, captain of the emperor’s elite soldier unit, the Arrows (huh, where have I heard that before?), and rumored to be the emperor’s personal killing machine. He’s initially way too far over the alphahole line for me, though it’s revealed he has some very good reasons for being cynical, paranoid and a general jerk. So, yeah, I wasn’t that upset to realize that the romance plot line wasn’t going very far in this book, truebond or no. Rather than the usual instalove, there’s a ton of distrust (layered with a good dose of “the truebond must be making me attracted to them!”) and general suspicion. It’s only because they’re forced to work together that they start to respect each other and even become friends. There’s some particularly sweet moments where they open up to each other that gave me some hope for them.
As for other cons, there’s a rather large chunk of infodumping at the beginning (gee thanks, Vesper’s gossip channel watching roomie!). Some of the names were eyeroll worthy as well. Honestly, every time they mentioned Regals, I had that Lorde song stuck in my head (“And we’ll never be roooyyyaaaaals”). And Techwavers? Eek. It had that feeling of using random scifi names for regular things just to, you know, prove it was in a sci-fi universe.
To be honest I could nitpick this to death and that’s really too harsh. While there were a lot of eyerolls, I genuinely had a good time with the book. The action portions in particular were amazing. The political machinations are pretty fun, as is watching Vesper adjust to the Regal lifestyle. Since a good chunk of that involves her eating a lot of really good fruit and cheese, I definitely empathized with her (and made my own charcuterie board). I liked how protective she was of her friends (and even Kyrion) and I really appreciated that her reaction to wrongdoing was to get angry. I’m as much a fan as anyone of even-keeled heroines, but given *waves hands at world* it’s so freeing to see one who gets so incredibly angry and then uses that a to fix the situation. And watching two lonely people like Vesper and Kyrion start to learn to trust each other? Magic.
Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars. It’s a solid first book in a new series and hopefully the next book will be even better!