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REVIEW: Once Upon A Time in Space by Heather Massey

Dear Ms. Massey,

I have totally procrastinated about writing this review, which will probably give you a hint regarding my reaction to Once Upon a Time in Space. My hesitation is due to this coming on the heels of my less than charitable review about another group of space pirates, but since honesty has always been my policy, I’m diving in head first.

Once Upon A Time in Space by Heather MasseyEarth is a dying world. Its crust is crumbling and its citizens are forced to live in cities beneath the ravaged surface trying to eke out existences in overcrowded cities. The Space Defense Corps, the military power that has essentially replaced the government, has a stranglehold on the populace, the planet and all space travel and exploration. To say that existence is miserable and there’s constant unrest is an understatement. Reading about the overcrowded, dirty, miserable conditions makes me want to take a long walk outside.

Nick Venture is unexpectedly fired from his position as an engineer at an excavation company, then ends up on the wrong side of the law all in the same day (when it rains, it pours, right?). Nick is immediately found guilty of a punishable offense and sentenced to a labor camp. He thinks his life might be over, and from the sound of it, he might possibly be right. While awaiting transport to Alcatraz labor camp, Nick receives a proposition: join the Collective and lead an expedition to a viable planet that the Collective has discovered. Why Nick? Because he’s the last living relative of Christopher Columbus and his presence on the expedition will give the people of Earth hope. Yes, you read that right, he’s expected to lead the expedition…as in captain a spaceship. We’ll circle back here in a moment.

Raquel Donovan is a space pirate better known as the Siren. She is the captain of the Deathraven, one of the most feared vessels in space, and is infamous for her tactical prowess and plain old guts. Raquel description falls into the category of stereotypical pirate for me, complete with eye-patch and ascot…and of course, wears a super-sexay black ship suit. Raquel is on a mission to find and kill her nemesis (no spoiler here…sorry) and makes no bones about taking out as many Space Defense Corps ships as she can while trying to find and destroy her enemy.

This book had a certain element that should have made my heart sing while hysterically crying with joy: a heroine that won’t take shit from anyone and captains her own spaceship. The plot premise itself was great: a dying planet run a corrupt government and military, with a group of pirates rebelling against them coupled with a somewhat forbidden romance. All of this, along with tactical space battles, intrigue and deception. There could not be any more win here. However, the story, the hero and finally, the heroine ended up letting me down.

Raquel Donovan was fabulous…until she encountered Nick Venture. From the first it seemed like her backbone, and frankly her entire personality, disappeared around Nick. Before Nick showed up, Raquel was a woman with a vendetta, and I would have loved if her interaction with Nick was her taking the wheel and then telling him where he could shove it, but that definitely didn’t happen. From the beginning she keeps secrets from Nick to supposedly protect herself. She has Nick running in circles, but doesn’t divulge anything to him so the romantic tension felt manufactured rather than organic. There was so much wishy-washy going on in Raquel’s head that I couldn’t find the bloodthirsty, tough, strong, unforgiving space pirate I was led to believe was there.

And then there was Nick, who was so beta that I have a hard time believing he could command respect from a group of well-seasoned space travelers. Or that they would even let him be the leader of a mission. This was one of the biggest problems I had with OUTS. The Collective assembled a group of former “spacers” that were out of work to get to a new planet. Were these people given heavy doses of drugs? Were they brainwashed? They accepted a man that they’ve never seen before, a man who has never been on a space craft, and has absolutely no experience, as their leader. I just couldn’t suspend quite this much disbelief.

Nick’s other beta problem? I couldn’t believe that an Alpha like Raquel would want a beta like Nick. Yes, he is now a captain, and yes, he somehow has the respect of people on three different ships. But his internal dialogue is painfully weak, his interaction with Raquel is based mostly on lust and fantasy, and his instant lust going to instant love weirded me out.

The romantic/erotic element wasn’t terrible, but there was so little actual physical interaction that I’d be pressed to call the book an erotic romance. Since I had such a hard time with Nick’s character, I ended up skimming a lot of the sexin’. Finally, the last chapter of the story barely made sense and felt tacked on as a wrap-up epilogue even though it wasn’t titled that way. I really wanted to love this but I just couldn’t; and due to the weakness of one of the foundation plotlines and my issues with the characters I’d have to rate this a D.

~ Shuzluva

Book Link | Kindle | Red Sage

Sydney (better known by her handle, Shuzluva) knew that she wanted to be Han Solo's copilot after seeing Star Wars at the tender age of 5. She fell in love with romance novels over 20 years ago when she got her hands on Sandra Brown's Texas! trilogy, and in the mid 90's was overjoyed to discover romance writers had branched out into the world of SciFi/fantasy. While she enjoys the occasional contemporary or historical novel, the world of SciFi holds an unshakable fascination for her. Some of her favorite authors include Nalini Singh, Catherine Asaro and Kresley Cole, and she's always interested in adding new authors to the list.


  1. Jan
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 15:22:18

    Hey, quick question, what book or review are you referring to in the intro?

    Also, the title seems to suggest a sort of Western theme to the book, but gathering from your review it seems that isn’t the case?

  2. DS
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 15:23:17

    I’m still stuck on the Christopher Columbus thing. Christopher Columbus?

  3. Shuzluva
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 15:51:56

    @Jan: If you’re thinking a Firefly visual, that isn’t what I got from it. For me, “Once Upon a Time…” is pretty generic. I think my reaction to that phrase is due to having read so many Cinderella-style stories to my kids over the past few years.

    Sureblood is the other review.

  4. Jan
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 16:18:06

    @Shuzluva: Ah, for me, Once Upon a Time… is very much Once Upon a Time in the West, probably because all fairy-tales I read as a child were in Dutch, so that movie is mostly how I got to know that line.

  5. Isobel Carr
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 16:52:03

    Is it wrong that all I can hear now is This one time, at band camp . . ., LOL!

  6. FiaQ
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 16:53:03

    That heroine’s-personality-or-backbone-disappears-the-moment-hero-appears thing isn one of most common things I see in action-driven or adventure romance novels as well as romantic suspense novels. Especially futuristic romances. It truly drove me crazy.

    I backed down from penning hissy-fits-throwing posts after I realised the majority truly do dislike heroines who continue to be what they are after meeting heroes.

    It’s as if there is an invisible law that the reins should be handed over to the hero the moment he appears. The heroine will be seen as an unreasonable “bitch” if she doesn’t do this. I still don’t get it, to be honest, but that’s how it is, it seems. So I’d give Massey some slack on this aspect (even though I still don’t like this aspect).

    That said, I find this puzzling (it’s not to do with Massey’s book any more):

    Nick's other beta problem? I couldn't believe that an Alpha like Raquel would want a beta like Nick.

    I’m not that comfortable with labelling characters “alpha” and “beta” (as well as other moronic short cuts “seme/uke”, “H/h” and more) – well okay, I admit it irritates me – but to say an Alpha wouldn’t go after a Beta? Why not? I don’t get it. In actual fact, why label them at all? Aren’t characters supposed to be multi-layered?

    Sorry for tossing in this question so unexpectedly. Explanation: I spent a day fielding comments from comic readers. Their constant use of blanket labels – alpha/beta, seme/uke, etc. (instead of characters’ names, personalities or professions) – seriously drove me up the wall. When they say things like “He doesn’t look like an Alpha/seme/whatnot. He should be taller, stronger, and more domineering,” it almost broke my brain.

    (Sorry for derailing this a bit and thanks in advance for not beating the crap out of me for it.)

  7. Heather Massey
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 18:59:24

    Shuzluva, thanks so much for taking the time to read my book as well as for your honest review. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

    Incidentally, I blogged about “5 Reasons To Avoid ONCE UPON A TIME IN SPACE” in anticipation that the book wouldn't appeal to some readers-‘even if you're a fan of science fiction romance.

    I tagged the hot button elements (e.g., the science fantasy concepts; the subversive elements) in a non-spoiler way.

    Thanks again!

  8. whome
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 21:25:10


    I backed down from penning hissy-fits-throwing posts after I realised the majority truly do dislike heroines who continue to be what they are after meeting heroes.

    then I’m in the minority because I hate characters who go through a characterization lobotomy to satisfy some male/female fantasy requirement. Why bother giving the character those details if they aren’t really part of the plot? I say start them out as you mean them to continue for consistency’s sake if nothing else.

    Nick's other beta problem? I couldn't believe that an Alpha like Raquel would want a beta like Nick.

    Given that the female lead is only a faux alpha once the male shows up then I really don’t get this comment. It’s beta with beta, isn’t it. Since the opening is only a characterization ploy. Or am I reading this review incorrectly?

    (BTW: This story as described would’ve pushed my buttons as well so I appreciate the review.)

  9. Willa
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 21:56:23

    I also had a wtf reaction to the Christopher Columbus angle.

  10. Ava Glass
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 22:12:30

    I couldn't believe that an Alpha like Raquel would want a beta like Nick.

    I agree with FiaQ about this quote. Why wouldn’t an alpha female want a beta male?

  11. Shuzluva
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 22:34:27

    @Ava Glass: I think you have a fair point; my problem here is really with Nick’s personality and my inability to see Raquel falling for it. That is, the Raquel that I thought I was going to see. The Raquel that actually shows up is probably good for Nick (and vice versa), but I didn’t like her much.

  12. Melissa
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 22:42:51

    @FiaQ: You wrote: “It's as if there is an invisible law that the reins should be handed over to the hero the moment he appears. The heroine will be seen as an unreasonable “bitch” if she doesn't do this.”

    Off the top of your head, do you know a good example of a action-driven romance where the heroine doesn’t follow the usual mold?

  13. Kaetrin
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 04:05:04

    Shuzluva, thanks so much for taking the time to read my book as well as for your honest review. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

    Kudos to Ms. Massey.

  14. Jan
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 07:07:19

    @Melissa: First one coming to mind is Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair, but that’s probably because I just read it.

    I think Sirantha Jax counts possibly as well.

  15. Helly
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 08:07:27

    @FiaQ: Kate Daniels, Ilona Andrews’s heroine, hasn’t lost any of her balls – despite being mated to the pack leader Curran, alpha of all alphas…
    But I agree, too many spunky heroines deflate once they’ve met the hero.

  16. Deb Kinnard
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 11:13:27

    Yeah–why is this lobotomizing really necessary? Do we, as writers, simply cave into the Unwritten Laws we’ve internalized by reading too many formula romances?

    And Alpha female meeting/needing Uber-Alpha male has been done half to death, IMO. What’s wrong with changing it up a bit so an Alpha meets/needs a Beta? I thought spec fic was about breaking the rules and asking “what if..?”.

    Kudos also to Ms. Massey for her classy response.

  17. Jamie Michele
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 21:21:33

    I think a dominant, aggressive, forthright female might actually prefer a more laid-back mate (yes, I speak from experience). But I see examples outside of my own history, too, including one from Firefly itself.

    Wouldn’t Zoe and Walsh’s relationship be such an Alpha female / Beta male pairing?

  18. Char
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 21:50:17

    I read Massey’s list of why not to read her book, alpha heroine giving up everything that made her special/alpha in the presense of the hero was not mentioned. I don’t know why this is done in books, I expect the above post that most want it this way is probably the reason, but I feel cheated when it’s done.

    Of course I don’t like the HQ Presents doormat heroine, who eventually makes the alpha hero grovel for what he’s done to her and everything is wonderful. I can’t suspend the disbelief for that, but I know it’s going to happen. In Massey’s book I’d expect the heroine to remain tough/alpha, particularly after reading the blog five reasons.

    Good reveiw, thanks.

  19. MarnieColette
    Mar 25, 2011 @ 15:02:58

    I just got done reading this book. It was a hard read for me also for many of the elements you have mentioned in your review. I don’t mind the Alpha Female/Beta Male role in relationships but for me it also needs to work in the story.

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