Unleashed by C.J. Barry
(Love Spell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52573-9
Despite a shaky take-off, C.J. Barry’s latest “Un” story delivers a fun space opera adventure for futuristic fans.

Software designer Lacey Garrett is a mere Earth woman with a whole mess of problems. Her slime ball boyfriend, Robert, swindled her, ruined her professional reputation, and broke her heart. She’s questioning her judgment in people and desperately trying to hang on to her only client when the unbelievable happens.

Lacey answers a post on an online bulletin board from Zain Masters, space traveler, fugitive and alien. Zain becomes stranded on a deserted planet after a sophisticated weapons system shoots him down. With no replacement parts, and a band of bounty hunters on his trail, he needs to repair his ship using any means necessary. He comes across a domed structure with a series of hieroglyphic engravings, but cannot decipher them. So he takes to the Internet, finds Lacey, and beams her aboard.

However, complications abound. Once Lacey is aboard his ship, the systems go wacky and she becomes stranded. Will Lacey and Zain solve the mystery of the armed, deserted planet? Will they survive the local wildlife? Will Zain be able to clear his name? And will poor Lacey get home and take control of her life?

Things get off to a shaky start mainly thanks to Lacey. She’s hiding out and licking her wounds after the Robert affair, so when she gets beamed aboard a space ship she thinks she’s having a really vivid hallucination. While this blessedly only lasts a couple of chapters, it was a couple of chapters too many. Our heroine comes off as a bubble-headed twit.

The silliness continues with the entrance of the Godzilla-like creatures that inhabit the planet our couple is stranded on. Lacey sees a resemblance to her ex, and hence dubs the creatures “Bobzillas.” Like I said, silly.

But heaven help me, Barry had a way of sucking me into this story despite my initial eye rolling. This author has a knack for writing fun, space adventure plots which make me think she’s watched Star Wars one too many times. In this case, that’s not a criticism. The author has a fluid writing style, packs in a decent mystery, and kept me eagerly turning the pages.

It’s also commendable that while Lacey starts out slightly bubble-headed, she really grows as a person by the end of the story. Here is a heroine who ultimately decides that waiting to be rescued is not all it’s cracked up to be. And while some might consider her final actions bordering too-stupid-to-live territory, Lacey is the one making decisions about her own well-being. She’s no longer content to sit back and let some man tell her what to do.

And that’s really what this story is all about in the end. Sure the plot is fun, the romance nice, and Zain suitably hot – but it’s really Lacey’s show. She looks at the mess her life has become due to her inactivity, grabs a space laser gun, and starts kicking some butt. While Xena’s job is probably safe, Lacey falls into a very select category of romance heroines who don’t really need to get the guy in the end. The happily ever after is just gravy for our gal.

This reviewer rarely strays into the paranormal/futuristic sub genre, but C.J. Barry has swooped in and made me a believer in her talent. While those initial silly elements may work as a potential turn off for some readers, the author’s fun plots keep the action humming and the pages turning. If you’re looking for something light and fun with a touch of adventure, Unleashed is a good bet.

--Wendy Crutcher

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