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.
Earth 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.