Susan Grant, $12.99, ISBN 978-1940200286
Sci-fi Romance, 2016
The Champion of Barésh is the start of a new series called Star World Frontier, but it is also linked to the author’s The Star Series books. Don’t worry, this one stands alone quite well, although the hero Prince Klark Vedla was previously under house arrest for something he did in a previous book. Don’t worry, he’s released shortly after this story opens, so there’s more to the romance than conjugal visits. Mind you, the romance is rather on the skimpy side in the first place.
Our heroine Jemm Aves decides to take part in the males-only sport, bajha, in the underground circuit. Of course, she’d disguise herself to look like a bloke, although she’s stunningly gorgeous when she’s in full babe mode. She makes a short work of her opponents, and soon Sea Kestrel is the talk of the town. Klark eventually hears of this upstart and decides to draft that “man” into his professional bahja team. Oh boy. Jemm could use the money, of course, but her problems are not just restricted to having to share the locker room with a bunch of guys, though. The underground circuit folks can play nasty. Oh, and there’s Klark. What will he do when he discovers that Jemm is actually a woman – that very same hot woman he caught of a glimpse of earlier in the story?
This one isn’t an action-packed story, by the way. There is some action, but the story focuses more on Jemm’s adventures on the competition circuit. Bahja is basically a sparring match between two people in protective gear, and the posh, legal version is considerably tamer than the underground version, but still, the author manages to keep things interesting despite a part of me wishing that the whole thing had been more bloodthirsty. I know, I’m perverse, but it’d have been so much cooler if the whole thing had been a deathmatch, sigh. But the author wants to keep Jemm’s hands clean, so it’s a rather sanitized and not-so-violent contact sport I have to settle for here. Oh well.
The Champion of Barésh functions better as an adventure story with a female protagonist and a touch of romance, rather than a romance first and foremost, because for about half the book, Klark has no idea that his star player is a woman. Only he knows, the “romance” moves into accelerated mode, with the characters rushing to have sex, and all while I can only wonder whether I am missing something here. How did they get from one point to… that? The romance feels like something that is slapped on for the sake of being able to call this one a romance, and in a way I feel that its inclusion is more of a distraction than anything else.
Still, the rest of the story is a well-paced, well-written roller coaster ride, and I’ve had a good time reading it. Let’s put it this way: a lot of Jemm’s problems can be solved by Klark flexing his princely authority and throwing in some of his immense wealth when necessary, so the whole “drama” here is actually not very suspenseful. However, the author manages to keep me turning the pages, despite this, due to the strength of the narrative and pacing. So yes, while this one could be better, it is also a solidly constructed story that can deliver a whole lot of entertainment. I’ve had fun, and I like it.