LoveSpell, $5.99, ISBN 0-505-52540-2
Sci-fi Romance, 2003
CJ Barry’s Unearthed will be a great if unoriginal read if the heroine isn’t somewhat stupid and too perky – a double combo of annoyance where this reader is concerned. This is a standard “Me and an Alien in His Spacecraft” romance, but it’s better written and plotted than the usual primitive barbarian futuristic romances out there. No psychic Barbie slave princesses, no alpha barbarian heroines, just a second-rate club singer human and the alien who loves her. Do take note that this book is more of a vintage futuristic as opposed to being a bad space-kitty porn romance, though.
Anyway, the story. When Tess MacKenzie is rescued from a fat and ugly mugger one night, she is grateful to her handsome rescuer – until he zaps her unconscious and spirits her away on his spaceship, that is. He’s Cohl Travers, and he’s a relic hunter. In a distant planet lives two warring tribes, the Traka-Nor (they live in the North) and the Traka-Sou (they live in the South). The Trakas know that whoever gets his or her hands on a Very Special Amulet will rule the planet. After the Mordor and Frodo fiasco on Middle-Earth, you’d think the powers-to-be will know better than to put all the powers of Ultimate Leadership into stupid items of jewelry. The Traka-Nors have kidnapped Cohl’s daddy and if Cohl doesn’t deliver the One Amulet to Rule Them All, Daddy will be irked. If Cohl needs to get his hands on the amulet, he needs a singer with perfect pitch and all to help. So say hi, Tess.
What happens is the usual spacecraft courtship and later, the road trip through dangerous terrains thing typical of the futuristic sub-genre. The author’s world is pretty well crafted, so that’s pretty good. Also, the hero is not bad at all. He’s not too original or anything, but he’s okay in that he doesn’t get on my nerves either with cavemen language. He does get on my nerves when he takes the heroine for granted, though.
The heroine is a bigger problem. Tess behaves more like an annoying tourist than a heroine. Her one-liners are tedious and unfunny, especially when it’s coupled to “Oops! Sorry!” moments of ineptness. I dislike her asking questions at the most inconvenient times. Many times throughout this book, I see “Mary Sue” flash across my eyes in bright neon colors whenever Tess somehow just accidentally saves everybody and says a too-precious quip to follow her great actions. Or when we consider that this heroine just walks into the story, saves the day, is powerful by default, cares for strangers and even cries for them because she’s So Sensitive And Sweet that way, and of course, she charms everybody she meets into loving her. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
If you have a higher tolerance for Mary Sue heroines – or if you don’t mind such heroines at all – CJ Barry’s Unearthed may provide some unexpected fun. The external conflicts involving betrayals and all are engaging. The pacing is pretty good – when the author needs to get things moving, she does. It’s just that the perma-chatter twit of a Mary Sue heroine gets on my nerves whenever she talks, giggles, saves everybody, or has everybody telling her and me how amazing this Mary Sue is. Right now, with the heavy Mary Sue overtones, Unearthed reads like a very well-written science-fiction TV series fanfiction.