Dear Ms. Sinclair,
Games of Command, your science fiction romance, begins shortly after an alliance is formed between the Triad and the United Coalition. Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian, formerly of the United Coalition, is surprised to learn that she has been assigned to the Vaxxar, a huntership under the command of the biocybernetic Admiral Branden Kel-Paten. When Tasha was working for the United Coalition, the “Tin Soldier” was her nemesis, and on the Vaxxar, Kel-Paten continues to dog her heels, so Sass believes he doesn't trust her.
Tasha and Kel-Paten each have a secret they are keeping from one another. In Tasha's case, the secret is that she is really the notorious “Lady Sass,” a rim runner who supposedly died in prison. In Kel-Paten's case, his secret is that he has been in love with Tasha for years, and his many run-ins with her in the past were orchestrated by Kel-Paten partly so that he could have a glimpse of her.
If Sass's secret is found out, the crucial alliance could be torn apart, and the United Coalition and the Triad could both fall prey to their mutual enemies. If the half-human Kel-Paten's secret is discovered, he could be dismantled, because as a biocybe, he is not supposed to feel emotions other than occasional justified anger. Kel-Paten has had to override his programming to nurture his passion for Sass, and to hide those feelings to ensure their survival as well as his own.
One person on board the Vaxxar does suspect Kel-Paten's feelings. Dr. Eden Fynn, one of the crewmembers that Sass brought with her to the Vaxxar, is an empath, and she senses that Kel-Paten feels strong emotions for her captain. But Eden is at first preoccupied by the mysterious deaths of the crew of another ship, apparently from terror, and later with Jace Serafino, a longtime enemy of Kel-Paten's, mercenary and spy the Alliance has ordered Kel-Paten and Sass to capture.
Just as the Vaxxar is chasing Serafino's ship, a vortex opens in space. Both ships make it, but Serafino's is damaged and he is left comatose. In his sleep he manages to communicate with Eden, and reveal that he is a telepath and that she must be as well. Serafino and Eden feel an almost irresistible romantic pull to one another, even though they've just met.
Serafino tells Eden that Psy-Serv, the same Triad agency that has programmed Kel-Paten to feel no emotions, forced Serafino to have his brain implanted with something that limits his telepathic abilities, and will do something similar to Eden if they realize that she too, has telepathic abilities.
From Serafino, Eden learns that within the Alliance is a faction of former Triadians who are plotting a coup. Serafino suspects that Kel-Paten, whom he has loathed for years, may be part of this faction and therefore a danger to Eden, Sass and other crewmembers. But with the implant controlling Serafino's powers, he can't scan Kel-Paten to be sure if this is the case, and Eden is not a strong enough telepath. Neither of them knows if the emotions they sense Kel-Paten feels for Sass are real or some kind of psychic cover for a plot to harm her.
Eden has no idea how to remove Serafino's implant, but she shares her concerns with Sass and together they come up with a plan that involves deceiving Kel-Paten. Another unknown for Eden is whether Serafino will be the same man she's falling in love with when his implant is removed. Meanwhile, Sass and Eden's pet furzels sense something dangerous aboard the Vaxxar—
If this is a lot of plot summary, it's because there is a lot of plot. But for a book that is well over 500 pages long, Games of Command flew by. I had a blast reading this book, and what I liked best about it was Branden Kel-Paten.
It's not an everyday occurrence in my reading life to find a romantic hero whose happiness I want so badly. There is a duality within Kel-Paten, who doesn't quite know how to reconcile his machine half with his human half. He believes that Sass would be repulsed by his mechanical arms and legs, the scars he carries from the operations that made him a biocybe, and he hates it when the woman he loves sees him electronically connect to the ship.
Kel-Paten's programming makes it difficult for him to come up with a suitable response when Sass cracks a joke, but though he doesn't know how to show it, he would do nearly anything for her. His shyness, vulnerability and inexperience with women endeared him to me so much that I felt every distrusting remark or warm look Sass gave him almost as acutely as he did.
Sass was perhaps a more conventional heroine of the kick-ass variety, wisecracking, quick-thinking, and good at improvising. I liked her warmth, her resourcefulness, and the fear she tried to cover up when she realized that she had feelings for Kel-Paten and that he might not return them if he learned the truth of her past. I especially liked the pairing that she and Kel-Paten made. Yes, it really warmed my heart for once to read a book in which the geeky (but ever-so-appealing) boy gets the girl of his dreams.
For me, Eden Fynn and Jace Serafino's romance was less interesting, because they fell in love so quickly, but as the plot kept moving forward in the sections that focused on them, I was never bored even during those parts. Eden was another likeable character, a compassionate doctor with a strong sense of responsibility to her patients. I was slower to warm to Serafino, since I was firmly in Kel-Paten's corner and the two were enemies, and since Serafino, with his tendency to call Eden “sweetling” seemed a little slick for my taste. But I did grow to like him better when he came to some important realizations.
As for Tank and Reilly, those furry furzels, though they skated close to the edge of too cute, they proved to be heartwarming in their loyalty. I felt that the prose could have been a bit more polished, but it made up for much of that in verve and energy. The pacing was fast, the world-building thorough. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read a romance set in the future in which the science fiction aspect doesn't feel like it was thrown together in a slap-dash way. Instead, it reads as though you really gave it thought.
I was left with some questions about Kel-Paten's past. Specifically, how and why did he become a biocybe? Was it the result of an injury, or was he healthy and whole when the wires and computers were implanted in him? Did he volunteer for this dangerous operation, or was he given no choice?
I still really want to know the answer to these questions, but the fact that I'm still asking them is a mark of your success in creating an original character, one who feels real and (yes) human. One who is easy to root for and difficult to forget. So for all its effervescent charms and especially for Branden Kel-Paten, I give Games of Command a B+.