Bantam, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-58963-4
Sci-fi Romance, 2008 (Reissue)
This review of Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair is a request from Grace Henderson. Let me take this opportunity to remind you that, if you are a Patreon supporter, you are welcome to shoot off a request at any time. I’d be happy to get the book myself, and it’s always fun to check out books that are making other people happy. Note that digital-only titles can be tricky for me to obtain, though, as geographical restriction is still a thing in 2018 and there is no sign of it ever going away anytime soon.
Now, on with the review. Interestingly, this one was first published under Bantam’s Spectra imprint, which is for sci-fi and fantasy stories, before it is then reissued as a romance novel in 2008. I can see why – this one focuses considerably on relationships instead of space opera elements, and it has many of the tropes that eventually shape the current state of sci-fi and urban fantasy stories. Maybe that’s my problem with this one: if I read it ten years ago, I may be blown away. In 2018, many things in this story feel a little dated; what could have seemed amazing back then only seem mundane today.
Tasha Sebastian is a captain on a ship where the true leadership lies with Admiral Kel-Paten, a “biocybe” (think of it as a fancy jargon for cyborg – don’t worry, the most important body bits are still human in nature). Things can be tricky because they are both from factions that have only recently formed a political truce and alliance. Both were from opposing sides prior to this truce, and Kel-Paten specifically requested her presence on the Vaxxar after the truce had been officially cemented by their bosses. What our heroine wants to keep from the hero is that she used to be the undercover agent known as Lady Sass, who caused plenty of problems for Kel-Paten’s side before that agent “died”. What she doesn’t know is that for twelve years or so now, Kel-Paten has been in love with her. He has memorized everything in her files, dogs her all the time, and generally insists on being the boss when it comes to her because this is the biocybe equivalent of pulling the ponytails of the girl you have a crushed on. Don’t blame him: he’s terrible at doing things outside of whatever he is programmed to do.
The Vaxxar is on a mission to pursue the ship of Jace Serafino, a wanted rebel that has given their people a lot of headache. And then, he ends up on their ship in a circumstance that Kel-Paten considers suspicious. They are hot on his heels, and all of a sudden, a freak accident sends him into their clutches. Who wouldn’t go “Hmm…” at this? Things get tricky when Jace, a telepath, had bumped into Sass before, so he can blow our heroine’s cover. Fortunately, Sass’s doctor BFF on the ship is here to distract Jace with some sickbed TLC. Also, Serafino has information that will have everyone realize that there is something dirty among the higher-ups, provided that he can be trusted.
There are many things to love here. A heroine who has a healthy, believable friendship with another female character, for one. Also, Sass is in a position of leadership entirely on her own merit, and she is not put in a deliberate position of weakness in order to make the hero seem more “manly”.
On the other hand, Games of Command is a pretty long story, clocking in at over 520 pages, but much of the story just meanders. Many scenes feel drawn out for some reason – when one conversation would have sufficed, hey, why not drag things out over several scenes instead? These people talk a lot, and I soon start to wish that they do just as much. A bit more action and a little less conversation might have made things more lively here.
Also, the characters feel a little too “on” for me. Sass isn’t just feisty and capable – she is F-E-I-S-T-Y with three exclamation marks to follow. She is deliberately argumentative with Kel-Paten, often because he gets on her nerves and she has to quip-quip-quip back as she is S-A-S-S-Y!!! that way. If done moderately, this can be seen as some kind of sexual tension in action. In a story this long, though, her behavior soon becomes tiring to follow – especially in critical situations, when her first response is to start screeching that this cannot be and that cannot be possible, before settling for a Buffy-speak quip. Doesn’t she ever have any downtime? I need some downtime. I half expect her to start tongue-popping and going “YAAAAAS GURL SMASH IT!!!” right before her head rotates like helicopter blades and flies off.
Add Serafino’s relentless efforts to be the new Han Solo to her S-A-S-S-Y!!! and I get a story in which some characters come off as tedious attention-hog whose perpetual “on”-ness soon becomes contrived, forced, and even disquieting. Speaking of Serafino, he is more Pepé Le Pew than Han Solo, right down to his cringe-inducing terms of endearment for Eden, his designated love interest.
As for Sass’s boyfriend, Colonel Patton here can be quite creepy with his the-toaster-that-stalks-me way, but there is something endearing about how lost he is when it comes to forming human relationships. Not only he is awkward when it comes to emotions, he also had faced some humiliating rejection of his biocybernetic nature in the past, so our virgin Von Trapp has his appealing woobie side. However, his more deadpan kind of nature only accentuates how ON!!! and OVER!!! Sass can be sometimes, and I can’t help wishing that Kal-Paten is paired with Eden instead.
Back to my earlier point, I wonder if Sass wouldn’t grate on my nerves this much if I read this book ten years ago, when such heroines were quite rare compared to the more ubiquitous sensitive, hapless virginal healer damsel with a magic womb. I might be far more forgiving of this book then. In 2008, Games of Command might be a revelation. In 2018, however, it’s a readable but underwhelming. The elements are there for the author to put together a fun space opera, but what I get instead is a story that focuses a bit too much on forced sassy characters and cringe-inducing “cutesy” elements like those cat things.