GAMES OF COMMAND
By Linnea Sinclair
Science Fiction Romance
OPENING NOTES FROM REVIEWER: I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews for all potential readers. Knowing major chunks of the plot takes the fun out of the read.
So, looking at the elements…
COVER ART: I can only dream one of mine gets such a great cover. The artist is Stephen Youll. It’s got "pick me off the shelf now!" factor. Dark, other-worldly landscape. Spacecraft in blast-off mode. Competent-looking, uniformed female captain, front and center. And who is that hunk behind the female MC? ::: flips through a few pages :::: Oooh, that’s got to be Admiral Kel-Paten.
INITIAL IMPRESSION: Dialogue is used effectively as an opening hook. “You might want to sit down.” You bet I did…book in hand. I was drawn into the MCs world, feelings and situation. I understood her past, her current dilemma--and her concern about her possible futures. Or lack of one.
MAIN CHARACTERS: Captain Tasha “Lady Sass” Sebastian is intelligent, strong-willed, self-assured, and always up for a party or at least a pitcher of iced gin. I like her immediately. She’s coffee-fueled. She makes me root for her and she makes me laugh. Admiral Branden Kel-Paten is cold, calculating, angry, aloof, and impossible to read. But that’s how he’s wired, quite literally. Like, Tasha, I start out with a healthy dose of skepticism and suspicion. As I learn more about him, his past, and his present, I am thrown off balance and then won over, like she is. It takes time. He’s a difficult individual to get to know but the discoveries are more rewarding because of his complex layers. In the end, I cheer for these two. I am upset when their world—make that universe--falls apart. I need them to have a happy ending.
SUPPORTING CHARACTERS: Doctor Eden Flynn is a strong enough character to be an MC in her own right, and Jace Serafino, pirate and outlaw, is equal parts worthy hero and enigmatic scoundrel. The two main female characters are close friends and conspirators. The two main male characters are often at violent odds, and I found myself on Kel-Patent’s side every time.
VILLAIN: There is no stand-out villain. It could be Kel-Paten. It could be Serafino. Or an important Triad politician. Or the Faction. Or any of a number of questionable characters. Not knowing who the real enemy is half the fun.
OTHER CHARACTERS: There is a cast of effective and memorable personas, not the least of which are two who share the adventure with, and the affection of, the MCs. They aren’t human. They’re Tank and Reilly, a fidget and a furzel. These are not silly alien sidekicks. They are very recognizable and entertaining entities who play an important role in the outcome of the story. The other various crew members, friends, and past acquaintances are also well drawn, even in brief appearances.
WORLD BUILDING: An appropriately complex array of shifting alliances and enemies, influential organizations, ancient religions, legends and a certain unknown menace called The Faction. Good descriptions of setting throughout, from the spit-and-polish corridors of Kel-Paten’s flagship, Vaxxar to the refuge of a lush forest or an orbiting “raft.”
CONFLICT: Conflict exists on almost every level, but central plot themes focus on issues of trust versus perception. The animosity between the two male leads is sometimes intense. The romantic conflict is realistic. The characters have a deep chasm separating them and no talents for bridge-building. Or do they?
ROMANCE: The sexual tension begins as a faint flicker and allows the reader to develop an emotional investment before it becomes an ion flare. It’s through the MCs sexual encounters that their paradoxes are revealed.
READABILITY: Major Snarf Factor. Shall I explain? Last summer, I started reading a best seller but couldn’t get past Chapter Six. Not because it isn’t well-plotted, intriguing or effective writing, but because I simply didn’t have the time to finish it, and no motivational Snarf cracking their proverbial whip and chanting, “Must read more!” In contrast, I picked up GAMES OF COMMAND on Tuesday night and finished it Saturday afternoon, despite three fourteen-hour days at work. I made the time to finish it. I couldn’t put it down. It was a white-knuckle “what happens next?” adventure. I was Snarf-driven. This book should have a warning label: Addicting Substance. Determined by the Surgeon General to Result in Severe Sleep Deprivation.
EVIL AUTHORS GUILD STAMP OF APPROVAL: The Evil Authors Guild exists to encourage writers to inflict appropriate amounts of terror, angst and emotional torture into their characters’ lives, and to leave them twisting in the wind at every opportunity. Enthusiastic approval.
NEAT, CATCHY LINGO:
McClellan’s Void. Just the tag elicits mystery and foreboding.
Neverwhen. Suggests a place that can’t be described in physical terms, like Anne McCaffrey’s “between” or Never Never Land.
Psy-Serv. *suppresses shudder*
SECOND READ: What fun! All the subtle hints and nuances suddenly jump off the page. Kel-Paten’s personality quirks have deeper meaning. Tasha’s offhand comments crackle with irony. Little things that seem like visual details become major icons. This one is written for a second read. Maybe a third, a fourth…and beyond.
OVERALL RATING: I don’t rate novels on a number scale. Each novel is unique and, just like sightseeing in a strange city, you learn about the literary ‘points of interest’ as you get to know the territory. This one has adventure, excitement, shiny technology, a gritty underbelly and a variety of surprises. GAMES OF COMMAND is a Las Vegas. Definitely, a Las Vegas. And just like Vegas, if you haven’t ever been there, my advice is that you should make the trip. Soon.