Category: Action Adventure

Polaris Rising

Cover image for Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik by Jessie Mihalik

ISBN 978-0-06-280238-5

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“My reckless side, the side that had prompted me to run away from home rather than marry a practical stranger for political power, that side knew I would land on the planet. I had to know if my hunch was correct.”

For two years, Ada von Hasenberg has been on the run from her family, one of the three High Houses of the Royal Consortium that rules the universe. But her luck has finally run short, and when she is captured by bounty hunters, she knows that if she doesn’t escape, she will finally have to return home and make a political marriage of her parents’ choosing. As the fifth of six children, that is really all she is good for to House von Hasenberg. Then she is locked in a cell with Marcus Loch, the criminal better known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, an ex-soldier who reportedly slaughtered his own unit before going on the run. They are two of the most wanted people in the universe, with a fortune in bounties on their heads, but perhaps together they will have what it takes to escape.

The protagonist, Ada, was by far my favourite part of Polaris Rising. Despite her highly political upbringing, she is smart, but not cold, and tough but not bloodthirsty. She can fight, but it isn’t her preferred way of doing business. She takes everything her House taught her with the intention of using it to make her into a spy in a political marriage, and instead turns it towards pursuing her freedom. She did, however, read as somewhat older than the twenty-three the author pegs her at. She acknowledges her chemistry with Loch, but doesn’t fancy herself in love, though she is worried by the fact that she could be.

The love interest, Loch, on the other hand, I could take or leave. He is, in the romance parlance, an alpha, and I don’t tend to enjoy the jealousy and posturing that comes with that type. I found it pretty hard to warm to him any further after he called Ada a bitch in their first real argument. Jessie Mihalik softens him in other ways, such as repeated use of enthusiastic consent, but I was still fairly indifferent overall. Your mileage may vary!

Polaris Rising sits at the intersection of science fiction adventure and romance, and probably requires a reader who enjoys both of these genres. There is too much world-building and adventure for someone who is just in it for the romance, and too many romance tropes for someone who is just in it for the science fiction. This includes such contrivances as getting the hero and the heroine in bed together by the necessity of warming one another up after escaping across an icy planet. But the adventure includes a good mystery, as Ada tries to figure out why Richard Rockhurst, a younger son of one of the other High Houses, is suddenly so desperate to marry her, and get his hands on her dowry.

One of the aspects I enjoyed most about Polaris Rising was Ada’s relationship with her siblings, though we only see her substantially interact with her sister, Bianca, and in passing with Bianca’s twin brother. Instead of opting for a fierce or bitter sibling rivalry driven by the political maneuvering of the High Houses, Mihalik instead opts to depict a tight, supportive bond. When their parents try to pit them against one another the von Hasenberg siblings only draw closer, guarding one another’s backs. A second volume is due out later this year, which will follow the adventures of Ada’s widowed sister, Bianca, and House von Hasenberg’s mysterious head of security, Ian.

Arabella and the Battle of Venus (Adventures of Arabella Ashby #2)

Cover image for Arabella and the Battle of Venus by David D. Levineby David D. Levine

ISBN 978-0-7653-8282-5

“Her husband-to-be was a prisoner of war. This matter could not be allowed to stand.”

Arabella and Captain Singh’s wedding plans are put on hold when Captain Singh is sent to Venus by the Honorable Mars Company just as Napoleon escapes his prison on the moon. Captain Singh is caught in enemy territory at the outbreak of hostilities, and is promptly captured and held prisoner on the French colony. When Arabella learns that Joseph Fouché, the Executioner of Lyon, will take charge of the English prisoners on Venus, she engages the privateer Daniel Fox, and his ship Touchstone, to get her Venus first. With only her wits and a banknote for five hundred pounds, she must try to arrange the release of Captain Singh, and Diana’s crew before their brutal new gaoler arrives.

The first part of Arabella and the Battle of Venus focuses on the voyage to the French colony from Mars. Accustomed to the polished and well-oiled operation aboard Diana, Arabella finds herself displeased with Touchstone’s more slovenly crew. Worse, Captain Fox’s navigation skills cannot hold a candle to her own, and Arabella is desperate to reach Venus as quickly as possible. But Captain Fox will only agree to try her course if Arabella will wager a kiss and a private dinner if her plan does not bring them to Venus faster than his planned route. As in Arabella of Mars, Levine focuses a great deal of attention on the sailing aspects of the narrative, creating an atmosphere that might be best described as Patrick O’Brian in space.

The second act is more about characters and intrigue, as Arabella arrives at Venus, only to have nothing go as planned. Adrift on a foreign planet, where she does not speak the languages or know the customs, and where her English banknote is no good, Arabella finds she may have bitten off more than she can chew. Not only is Diana’s crew being held prisoner, they are being forced to work in a labour camp that is contributing to the creation of a new weapon that may alter the course of the war. If Arabella can discover the details, she may be able to save English dominance of the skies from Napoleon’s rapacious appetite for conquest, but she cannot see how she will manage that while also getting two ships and their crews off a blockaded planet.

Fans of the dashing and honourable Captain Prakash Singh may be disappointed with his small role, especially in the first part of this narrative. Instead, Arabella makes her way to Venus in the company of the also handsome but not precisely honourable privateer and gambling friend Daniel Fox. With her chaperone Lady Corey constantly questioning Arabella’s choice of fiancé, and Captain Fox perpetually trying to get Arabella to gamble her favours in exchange for his cooperation, Arabella is unaccountably intrigued by the scoundrel. Even after her arrival on Venus, Captain Singh practically sabotages his own cause, refusing to entertain Arabella’s escape plans, or include her in his own doings. Unfortunately, Captain Fox looks set to make a prominent appearance in the third installment of the series.

Some quibbles about the romantic subplot notwithstanding, Arabella and the Battle of Venus is an excellent second outing in Levine’s original series, which combines adventure and intrigue with alternate history, as well as considerable character growth for the heroine. I’m thoroughly looking forward to the trilogy’s conclusion, which will hopefully be released next year.

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You might also like The Silvered by Tanya Huff

Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies

Cover image for Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Liesby Jordan Jacobs

ISBN 978-1-4022-7560-9

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013.

“With her entire being, Samantha wanted to be an archaeologist, just like her Uncle Jay. On weekends, her parents would sometimes drive her from their home in Davis, California, and drop her off at her uncle’s university on the far side of San Francisco Bay. Samantha and Jay would talk for hours, sprawled among his notes and photographs.” 

Twelve-year-old Samantha Sutton dreams of being an archaeologist when she grows up, just like her Uncle Jay. So when her Uncle invites her to spend the summer helping him on an excavation at Chavín de Huántar in the Peruvian Andes, it’s a dream come true. Unfortunately, the only way to convince her parents to let her go is if her thirteen-year-old brother, Evan, goes too. Sam is determined not to let her brother ruin her summer, even when the grad student assigned to supervise them seems to prefer Evan, despite his lack of interest in archaeology. Unfortunately, Adam’s prejudice isn’t her biggest problem. Chavín de Huántar is being looted despite the careful precautions being taken at the site, and tensions between the archaeological team and the local government are rising. Residents of the valley blame El Loco—the Madman—for the thefts, and it is up to Sam to figure out if El Loco is really the culprit, or just a ghost story.

I picked up this title to fill out the Action Adventure category of the Eclectic Reader Challenge, but for the most part, there was more mystery than action or adventure, as Samantha tries to suss out who is looting the site. Most of the action and adventure comes towards the end of the novel. The mystery takes a while to build up, and the interim is about archaeology, navigating a foreign culture and language, and sibling rivalry. These are all great themes, and Jordan Jacobs does them justice. I particularly liked his attention the ethics of the situation, and the conversation Sam and her Uncle have after the grave of an Incan girl is unearthed on the site. Jacobs is an archaeologist himself, and this book does a much better job of representing the realities of the discipline than other media kids might be familiar with, such as Indiana Jones, or Tomb Raider.  However, I think that young readers might appreciate a little more action mixed in with the educational material. If I found this book to be a bit slow-paced, I can only imagine how it would feel for a kid. I would recommend this title for middle grade readers with a strong interest in archaeology or South America, but I think other young readers might struggle to get through it. It could also work well in the classroom in conjunction with a unit on Peru, or ancient civilizations.

Volume two, Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen, is due out in January.

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2013eclecticreaderThis title fulfills the Action Adventure requirement for my participation in the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out.