Every month we dare another book blogger to read a book that is outside their comfort zone and invite them to post their reviews or thoughts here. This month our guest is AnimeJune from the great blog Gossamer Obsessions. She writes reviews that are very detailed, very critical and with a keen sense of humour, all of which combined, makes AnimeJune in our opinion, one of the best reviewers of romance out there. When we approached her and asked which genres she was less comfortable with and she mentioned Sci-fi, we had only one name in our minds: Linnea Sinclair! We suggested she read Games of Command and here is what she thought.
Title: Games of Command
Author: Linnea Sinclair
Genre: SciFi Romance
Publication Date: February 27, 2007
Mass Market Paperback: 560 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand Alone
Why did we RECOMMEND this book: We love Linnea Sinclair and Games of Command is one of Ana’s favorites.
Summary: Can she trust a man who is half-machine?
The universe isn’t what it used to be. With the new alliance between the Triad and the United Coalition, Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian finds herself serving under her former nemesis, bio-cybe Admiral Branden Kel-Paten—and doing her best to hide a deadly past. But when an injured mercenary falls into their ship’s hands, her efforts may be wasted …
Wanted rebel Jace Serafino has information that could expose all of Sass’ secrets, tear the fragile Alliance apart—and end Sass’s career if Kel-Paten discovers them. But the bio-cybe has something to hide as well, something once thought impossible for his kind to possess: feelings…for Sass. Soon it’s clear that their prisoner could bring down everything they once believed was worth dying for—and everything they now have to live for…
Ladies and gentlemen, we give the floor to AnimeJune!
“Games of Command,” by Linnea Sinclair
Alternate Title: Shy, Robot
The Chick: Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian, a.k.a. “Lady Sass.” She (a United Coalition soldier, or U-Cee) and Kel-Paten (a Triad Admiral) used to fight on opposite sides of an interstellar war. Now that the UC and the Triad have formed the Alliance, Sass finds herself assigned to her former enemy’s ship, the Vaxxar.
The Rub: Sass has a secret past – she used to be “Lady Sass,” a renowned (and thought dead) mercenary who hijacked, bombed, and terrorized Triad ships way back when. The U-Cee eventually recruited her for undercover work and rewarded her with a new identity, but if anyone in the Triad finds out about her old past, it could jeopardize the Alliance, and land her a death sentence. And her Triad commanding officer Kel-Paten is paying strangely close attention to her….
Dream Casting: Katee Sackhoff.
The Dude: Admiral Branden Kel-Paten, a.k.a. “The Tin Soldier.” He’s renowned in the Triad for two things: the fact that he’s a kick-ass efficient soldier, and that he’s one of the few still-functioning biocybes around – human born, but at sixteen taken apart and rebuilt with handy computer and robotic upgrades that gave him super-strength, unreal endurance, the ability to plug into computers, and none of those pesky human emotions…
The Rub: Uh, about that last part: Kel-Paten is in desperate, crazy love with Sass, and has been even before the Alliance. However, he has to keep it a secret – emotions in biocybes are illegal, and any law-abiding individual who found out he can love would be obligated to turn him in. Luckily, Sass doesn’t seem that law abiding. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really seem to share his feelings.
Dream Casting: Michael Muhney.
Sass: Hi, I’m a merc!
Kel-Paten: And I’m a PC. *POP CULTURE REFERENCE: DEPLOYED*
Sass: Just kidding, I’m totally not a famous Triad enemy, that would be crazy!
Kel-Paten: And I’m totally not in love with you. That would be nuts! *TRUTHINESS LEVEL: LOW*
Sass: Wait, what?
Kel-Paten: Oh, hi Sass, uh… *BRAIN ACTIVITY: MINIMAL*
Sass: Keep it together, dude, we have a space pirate to transport. *slaps him on back*
Kel-Paten: …. *JUNK STATUS: ACTIVE!*
Various Enemies: *Pyew! Pyew! Stars Wars Sounds!*
Sass: Hey, while we’re alone…
Kel-Paten: Really? *INITIALIZING LOSS OF VIRGINITY MANOEUVRES*
Kel-Paten: You – you aren’t weirded out by my metal parts? *LOSS OF VIRGINITY IMMINENT*
Sass: Do they vibrate?
Kel-Paten: Uh, sure… *LOSS OF VIRGINITY: ACHIEVED!*
Romance Convention Checklist:
1 VIRGIN (!!) HERO (!!!!!)
1 Former Mercenary Gone Straight
1 Secretly Telepathic Half-Breed Space Pirate with Multiple Personalities
1 Doctor with Mild Body Issues (yeah, not that impressive compared to the Space Pirate)
1 Secondary Romance (between Doctor and Space Pirate)
2 Teleporting, Psychic Space Cats
1 Evil Villainous Faction
1 Bizarro Dimension
Several Alien Parasites
The Word: First of all, a thank you to the Book Smugglers, who asked me to do this Guest Dare. They suggested Games of Command because I’m mostly unfamiliar with the recent emergence of science-fiction romance. The one title I did try (Michelle Maddox’s Countdown) was a huge letdown, primarily because it was obvious that the science fictional setting was just wallpaper. It was exactly like real-life, only with a few convenient plot devices sprinkled here and there for easy climaxes and solutions. This wouldn’t have been so bad, if the characters hadn’t been cardboard to begin with.
Thankfully, that’s not Games of Command. From page one, you’re dropped into a vast, intricate world of blurry lines, tense politics, and established societies. At the novel’s start, United Coalition Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian is nearing the end of her six-month assignment onboard the Triad warship Vaxxar, run by Admiral Kel-Paten. Before their respective governments teamed up to become the Alliance, Sass and Kel-Paten were on opposing sides and encountered each other several times during the decades-spanning war. While surprised to find herself assigned to his ship now that a tentative peace has emerged, she serves five months without a hitch, and has even starts to enjoy yanking on the straight-arrow Admiral’s wires just for the hell of it.
Sass’s cakewalk assignment loses some of its flavour when the Vaxxar is charged with tracking down Jace Serafino, a space pirate who was supposed to be working undercover for the Triad but instead ran off with a whack of cash. Kel-Paten, who is Loyal to the Triad with a capital L, is gung-ho for the assignment, but Sass is less eager: Serafino is one of the few people in the galaxy who can identify her as Lady Sass, a famed anti-Triad mercenary who “died” several years ago. While she has no particular beef with Serafino, and vice versa, he didn’t earn his rakish reputation by being the most trustworthy guy around.
The plot thickens when Serafino is captured. While outwardly, Serafino is the same roguish pirate everyone expects him to be, Eden, the ship’s doctor (who possesses empathic abilities) discovers there’s another personality in Serafino’s head, artificially restrained by a brain implant, who hoards some Nasty Secrets much bigger than Sass’s – secrets that could possibly destroy the fragile Alliance. Secrets that other, nastier, people want to get their hands on. Secrets that implicate the nastiest people very high up on the Triad’s food chain.
Eden and Sass want to get the implant out of Serafino’s head so he can spill the beans on what looks to be a frighteningly wide-spread conspiracy, but they can’t allow Kel-Paten to get involved. Not only is Kel-Paten part of the Triad (and fiercely loyal to it), but he’s a biocybe – a cyborg who communicates with Triad higher-ups every time he physically jacks into a computer. On top of that, the empathic Eden senses bizarre flares of emotion coming from the man who’s supposed to have had every emotion programmed out of him – which means he’s either broken, or could be employing an artificial emotion “scrambler” expressly designed to block his mind from empathic readings. This secrecy makes him suspect, so Sass breaks into his office and downloads his computer files.
…And discovers another secret entirely: Kel-Paten is in love with her. Really, really, really, oh-God-he’s-worshiped-her-for-twelve-years, in love with her. Basically, Sass finds secret computer logs that go back years, in which the lonely Admiral’s spilled all of the feelings he’s had to keep to himself. Biocybes aren’t supposed to have any emotions other than anger (which is useful in combat), and anyone who suspects a ‘cybe of otherwise is supposed to turn them in. But Kel-Paten, efficient, logical, legendary-in-battle, emotionless computer Kel-Paten, can’t go near Sass without encountering the Blue Screen of Death, forgetting what he’s about to say, and ending up sounding more like a robot than he usually does. However, he’s convinced that Sass thinks of him as little more than an articulate toaster-oven (which, at the novel’s start, is mostly true).
So now Sass knows Kel-Paten adores her (although he doesn’t know she knows), but has to somehow extract the conspiracy from Serafino’s head without Kel-Paten knowing. Awkward.
As much as I dither on about the integrity of a science-fiction novel’s world-building and politics and consistency, while Games of Command has all that, the main, overwhelming reason I love this book is six feet tall, blue-eyed, and whose name rhymes with “Schmell-Paten.” Ooooh, Kel-Paten. He’s like a Hersey’s chocolate kiss wrapped in an iPod. I loved him. Reading him develop over the course of the novel was a huge treat, and there was never enough time spent in his head.
When I read the back cover blurb, I was expecting Kel-Paten to discover his love for Sass gradually, and was nonplussed when I opened the book and discovered, huh, he’s already in love with her and has been for years and is fully cognizant of that fact. But that’s just another delicious element of his character – this is a guy who’s half machine, who’s used to being in control, and who makes several (make that a lot of) stupid decisions because he can’t see past the empirical facts his cyber-enhanced senses relay back to him. But his illogical, unreasonable, immeasurable love for Sass – instead of repressing or denying it, over the years he’s nurtured it and held on to it, biocybe regulations be damned, because he recognizes that his feelings for Sass are the best part of himself, even if she isn’t aware of them.
That being said, his adoration for Sass, that part that keeps him human, also causes him to reject the robot half of himself as ugly and wrong. Whenever he’s around Sass, he edits what he says to avoid reminding her of his computer half (he’ll say “I learned this,” rather than “I was programmed this,” for example), and is ashamed when he has to jack into the ship’s controls in her presence, because he hates thinking she sees him only as a machine, a particularly good-looking BlackBerry. Physically, he’s near indestructible, but he’s so emotionally vulnerable it’s heartbreaking. There were about half a dozen scenes of his in this book that I just had to read again and again.
While I got more emotionally involved with Kel-Paten’s character than with Sass’s, Sass was still well-drawn, funny and sympathetic, not to mention sensitive. A lot of things could have gone wrong with the plot development of Sass discovering Kel-Paten’s private journals, especially since at that point she had never considered him in a romantic light before. Seeing those intensely personal entries gave her a huge advantage over him at a point in the story where he was still considered a threat, but she never abused it. Instead, his logs only made her re-evaluate all of his decisions, actions, and behaviour in a new light. In Games of Command, it is Sass who has to make the emotional journey to get to where Kel-Paten already is.
As for the world-building – it’s good. Very good. Almost too good. There were one or two spots in the novel where I had no idea what was going on and had to chug on through (the Void had me scratching my head nearly bald at points), hoping a better explanation for events would come later. A couple of scenes also dragged, particularly the ship-piloting ones. They were incredibly detailed and consistent, to be sure, but I read them as:
Sass: Jargon jargon jargon jargon! Lingo, Jargon!
Kel-Paten: Physics physics physics! Science, technology, physics!
Eden: Buttons, levers, shields, codes!
When the entire scene pretty much amounts to:
Sass: The ship’s not working!
As for the secondary romance, it rates a “m’eh.” Eden and Serafino label themselves as a couple fairly early, their only obstacle being “I hope we stay alive long enough to consummate!” Also, while I’m sure the space pirate thing is supposed to be sexy, Serafino spends much of the book using his psychic powers to taunt Kel-Paten with his shortcomings, and since I’ve already ordered my “Team Kel-Paten” T-Shirt, Serafino’s behaviour makes him about as attractive as a small Dutch cheese. Okay, okay, a medium-sized Dutch cheese, but one that takes screen time away from Kel-Paten.
I also could have done with some more information about the characters’ pasts. We learn some more about Sass’s past as mercenary Lady Sass, but not why she became a mercenary and starting running with the rough crowd. Similarly, we learn that Kel-Paten’s change into a biocybe was a “bad memory,” but we never learn why he did it, how it happened, how his family felt, or if he had any family (other than one family member who came in well out of left field and with no explanation). Considering how much his computer enhancements affected his self-image, I found it odd the novel never dwelt on this.
Before I conclude my review, I decided to take a page from one of the Book Smugglers’ reviews and describe a Notable Part – easily one of my favourite scenes in the book. Here be spoilers, folks: I’m talking about the sex scene between Kel-Paten and Sass. Sass knows what she wants, she knows (by now) she’s in love with Kel-Paten, and she’s ready to rip his clothes off and see how his flashdrive fits into her USB port (wink wink nudge nudge).
Kel-Paten’s thought processes are as follows (I’m paraphrasing): “Oh shit, there’s a bed in the room. Crap – gotta keep my pants on – hey, dim lighting, that’s good – yeah, let’s keep kissing, I’m good at kissing – we can just kiss for two hours, can’t we? That’s what people do, right? We don’t need to take my pants off – oh, boobies – well, okay, you can take your pants off, but not me…” It’s a scene that’s tender and sad and even a little funny: Kel-Paten’s a virgin hero, who’s ashamed both of his physical surgery scars and his sexual inexperience, and he spends this whole scene horny as hell while trying to stay in control and keep his ugliest parts (inside and out) hidden. But Sass, who’s spent four-hundred-some pages discovering this Tin Soldier has a heart of gold, isn’t going to let him off that easy.
Games of Command is a prime example of a science-fiction romance. Part of its success lies in the balance – the science fictional half demands a galaxy-spanning story with universe-wide repercussions, while at the same time the romance half requires an intimate adventure that occurs between only two people. Linnea Sinclair’s novel manages both, because both conflicts are essentially the same, just on a different scale. Without giving anything away, the villains’ desire is to control people by shutting away and repressing the unique elements of the population. Similarly, Kel-Paten compartmentalises – he keeps up his functional, efficient, logical front, while his fear of rejection and reprisal makes him hide his emotions away. It takes Sass’s diligence and smarts to get Kel-Paten to lower his walls, just as his raw, honest emotion chips away at her own barriers. And that, my friends, is what makes Games of Command a good romance, period. A-.
Thank you AnimeJune, this was great!
Next month our guest is Jessica from Racy Romance Reviews who will be reading one of our favourite YA books: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.