Dear Ms. Archer,
My track record with space sci-fi romance (SSFR) has been terrible of late. There are moments when I wonder why I continually punish myself with middling (at best) SSFR when there is so much incredible romance reading available out there. But I do it because I’m hunting for that perfect mix of ultimate sci-fi, white knuckle action, strong H/H’s, hot sex and gut-wrenching emotions all taking place in or around a universe/galaxy/star system that includes places like Coruscant. What can I say? I’m on the hunt for the holy grail of SSFR and I’m a tough crowd to please.
With Collision Course there were elements that definitely put me in my happy galaxy all wrapped neatly into a 194 page package. But before I get to the nitty gritty, a brief summary is in order: Smuggler and pilot Mara Skiren depends upon her flying and negotiating skills to get her out of tight spots. But when the 8th Wing comes calling, she’s forced to take on a mission and a partner, seemingly straight laced ace pilot Commander Kell Frayne.
Lieutenant Jur, an 8th Wing pilot, and her ship are missing and the 8th Wing has received confirmation that the ship (and possibly the pilot) is being held for an auction by another smuggler in the Smoke Quadrant. Before they fall into the hands of PRAXIS (the bad guys out to rule the universe), Mara and Kell must rescue Jur (hopefully) and her ship. The 8th Wing has never ventured into the Smoke Quadrant and know that they wouldn’t be welcome there if they could make it past the treacherous entry. Mara’s reputation as a hotshot pilot earns her the honor of escorting Kell into the smugglers’ realm. The thought of having a partner, or anyone at all, on her ship is an anathema to Mara, but Jur’s ship can only be flown by another 8th Wing pilot so she’s stuck with Kell, a man who instantly revs her engine to light speed. Deep space hijinx ensue with super action, hot wardrobe changes, and a lot of heat building.
I was impressed by the amount of worldbuilding, personality, action and depth that was squeezed into the short(er) format of this book. Ms. Archer does an excellent job of providing us the histories of the H/H that isn’t infodumptastic, and imparts knowledge about the world of PRAXIS/8th Wing by introducing them through conversation and observation rather than simple descriptive paragraphs.
Mara is the type of pilot and leader that anyone would want around: arrogant, sure of herself, but not too stupid to dismiss advice or learn something new, and not afraid to let someone lend a hand to that effect. While her protectiveness of Kell could be viewed as either cute or Mary Sue, I felt that it underlined her confidence in herself and her abilities. Kell is a super-growly Alpha, but he actually takes a backseat to Mara when they head into the Smoke Quadrant. When he sits back and lets her take over, he revels in the strong woman she is rather than worrying that she’s going to give herself a paper cut, which was a relief. That he’s turned on by her awesome piloting skills and amazed by her er…smuggling skillz (and more her confidence in both) was HAWT. Both Kell and Mara have complicated pasts that clearly (and easily) explain why they are where they are. Reading about them and how they learn each other’s pasts was an experience I’d repeat. One thing to note here: the book blurb said something about Kell wanting to sleep with Mara to get him out of her system, or some such nonsense. I don’t like the “fuck her to forget her” approach, and during the course of the book, this was not Kell’s approach to his attraction to Mara at all. Thank goodness.
There were things that I didn’t like here. There were things that really annoyed me that veered from trope into territory that I recognized. Smuggler/hotshot space pilot coerced into working for the “good guys” sounds all too familiar; all that’s missing is a hairy sidekick. The city of Beskidt By in the Smoke Quadrant made me think of this line: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” And when Mara and Kell enter the bar, I couldn’t get this out of my head. But overall, this is the best SSFR I’ve read in a long time. So what did I do? Damn skippy; I enjoyed it. B