Unraveled by C.J. Barry
(Love Spell, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-505-52562-3
***
Tru Van Dye hopes to secure her future, but to do so she must leave the isolated community of Majj scientists where she has lived her whole life. Her father was a powerful administrator at the Institute, and with him now dead, all eyes are on Tru to prove her worth before her 30th birthday. If she cannot come up with a significant discovery by then, the Majj and the powers that be will unceremoniously show her the door. However, things are looking up, even if time is running out. She has found what she believes to be a key to a long lost buried treasure. The only trick will be getting away from the Institute without raising suspicion, and hiring a guide to help her.

Unfortunately the only guide she can come up with is Rayce Coburne. Rayce literally despises the Majj and everything they stand for. The only reason he agrees to help Tru is because he desperately needs the credits to complete work on his space station. It also doesn’t help matters that neither of them trusts each other, and Rayce becomes especially prickly when he realizes he’s getting the hots for Tru.

Barry has written a really fun futuristic adventure with only her second published effort. The whole story struck me as a cross between Indiana Jones and Star Wars. The treasure hunt is exciting to read about, with a light mysterious touch. Tru and Rayce have to go to one alien planet after another to solve a different piece of the puzzle. The intergalactic world here is light and interesting – with the author not spending a lot of tedious time on world building. Unraveled is about one step up from wallpaper, with just enough different to keep the reader intrigued, but not so technical that it will cause one’s eyes to glaze over.

Too bad the whole thing revolves around characters straight out of central casting. Rayce hates all Majj, regardless, because of a past tragedy. So naturally when he sets eyes on Tru he lumps her into his stereotype. Tru is the dreaded “almost a virgin.” One of those romance heroines’s who has had one sexual partner, who called her a frigid failure, so golly he must be right. So even though this former partner is an unscrupulous slime ball, she must be unattractive and a failure at sexual pleasure because well, he said so.

Even with these unfortunate clichés, Rayce and Tru are generally likable people. They have some wonderful sexual tension, with the virtual love scenes in particular being pretty hot stuff. Unfortunately they start to revert back to their instilled stereotypical beliefs towards the end of the story – which really throws some momentum off the romance. They begin to trust each other, and care about one another, only to make sharp left turns for the climatic finish.

I don’t read futuristic romances all that often, and Unraveled was a nice treat. The treasure hunt adventure aspect of the story was very well done and easily kept me turning the pages. It’s unfortunate that the characters were stock examples of other romance characters most readers have read versions of time and again. Still, they weren’t bad people and I liked that they got their happily ever after. Unraveled is a good way to spend an afternoon – it’s a fun, fast read, even if the romance isn’t terribly inspired.

--Wendy Crutcher


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