RogerBW's Blog

Only Bad Options, Jennifer Estep 09 November 2022

2022 romantic SF, first of a planned trilogy. Vesper Quill is a designer working on various high-tech products for the penny-pinching Kent Corporation. Kyrion Caldaren is the Emperor's right hand, head of his elite forces. There's no reason they would ever even meet

This is very light SF, highly reminiscent of Jessie Mihalik's Consortium Rebellion series – for example, each world plays host to one city, or one battlefield, and if you want to go to a different place you get on a ship and go to a different world. Also there are psionic powers that might as well be magic (and in fact most people treat them as such, something they don't really understand). However, the plan here is for the single story to take up the whole trilogy, rather than each one being about a separate pairing, so with more room to develop things start quite slowly: Vesper tries to get the word out about the cover-up job being done on a flawed spacecraft design, only to learn that it was done deliberately. Then she's thrown into the Imperial army, without training, in the hope that along with almost every other conscript she'll die in her first battle to help show the real soldiers where the enemy is. Then it all gets complicated.

This is a fairly crapsack setting, with a corporate-aristocratic hierarchy backed by magical talent, all of whom are happy to screw over everyone below them… and those are the relatively good guys, at least as far as the people living there are concerned. Both principals have significantly traumatic pasts, and secrets they have to keep from everyone. And then it turns out they have an empathic bond, which makes them everybody's target.

All right, so Vesper has cinematic gadgeteering powers, as well as Seer abilities that guide her to where the plot is going to happen, while Kyrion is a combat monster. But what I like about this book is that in spite of their superpowers they face real challenges, and not everything can be solved by either hitting it or cobbling up a piece of tech. Their enemies are at least as powerful as they are, and less restrained in how they use those powers. And in one action sequence Vesper thinks her way out of it not by spontaneously manifesting a new ability but by getting clever about using the abilities she already has.

All right, it's a slow start with a lot of setup and a fair bit of infodumping as Vesper thinks about things that she already knows. But Estep's writing style is growing on me, and there's a sense of fun about the whole business (even in moments of despair for the characters) which alone would bring me back.

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See also:
Polaris Rising, Jessie Mihalik

Series: Galactic Bonds | Next in series: Only Good Enemies

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