The problem I sometimes have with futuristic romances is the same problem I sometimes have with all the other romance sub-genres. There’s just too much external plot getting in the way of what I came to read about -- the romance. Now, that’s a personal feeling, and I realize that some readers love to have their romance blended with thrilling suspense, or a challenging mystery, or even a message of spirituality. But, to me, at times, I feel like I got shortchanged in the most important area.
If you’re a fan of the futuristic sub-genre, Saranne Dawson’s Starlight, Starbright may well be the kind of book you’d want to read. The author has certainly done a credible job of creating an alternate reality, a world that is not Earth -- and not even some imagined Earth of the future -- but is similar enough to our planet that readers can relate to it. She’s also crafted likeable characters and an interesting (if non-romance-focused) storyline.
On the chauvinistic planet Ulata, where women are basically controlled by men, space travel is dependent on an unusual group of women, the Sisterhood of Trezhellas. The men of the space program need a way to communicate with each other while in space, but traditional means can’t do the job. Trezhellas, however, can communicate with each other mentally, so they are recruited to help the program by relaying messages from ship to home planet and back again. But more powerful Trezhellas are needed to breach the distant reaches of space that the program can now venture into.
And they may have found just what they’re looking for in Serena, an unusually powerful and untrained mental communicator from a distant and technologically unadvanced planet. So a group of “space men,” led by Commander Darian Vondrak, zip over to her planet and kidnap her. On the way back to Ulata, Serena and Darian form a relationship even though neither can speak the other’s language.
Now fast-forward several months -- and get used to the fast-forwarding, because the author has a way of skipping over some of the most dramatic and crucial parts of the story, then summarizing them later in a quiet moment of reflection. Takes some of the momentum out of things, let me tell you. Anyway, I digress.
Serena is trained as a Trezhella, her powers are much-lauded, and she’s urged to join the space men on a voyage of discovery into uncharted space, since she’s about the only one who can communicate over such vast distances. The only problem -- Darian will be the captain of the mission.
Serena is torn -- does she want to see him again? If so, does she want to pick up their relationship where they left off? Here the main conflict in the romantic relationship begins to unfold. See, Serena’s an independent woman. Life on her home planet might be simple and static, but at least men and women are viewed as absolute equals. Darian is from a world that views women as inferior beings, and that’s bound to cause some friction in their relationship.
But the most important factor in Serena’s decision about the mission is this: she wants to go. Unlike the other Trezhellas, and unlike the people on her home planet, she’s naturally curious and adventurous. She liked her experience with space travel even when she was being kidnapped, and she’s interested in going on more trips through the stars. As the author repeats ad nauseam about her and other characters, Serena “has the stars in her blood.” So she decides to go.
The rest of the story involves, to some degree, Serena’s reunion with Darian and their subsequent relationship, and to a larger degree, their shared mission in space. The mission part is interesting and well-crafted, and since it forms the meat of the book, that’s a plus. The relationship part doesn’t fare so well.
I have to give the author credit. Given the different worlds Serena and Darian come from, readers could have had a lot of screaming fits and shrieking matches in store for them. But the two aren’t as far apart on matters of gender equality as you might expect, and they manage to act like mature, rational, and respectful people. They also share a deep bond that allows them -- somewhat like the Trezhellas - to communicate without words. In fact, I thought I’d scream if I read the phrase “they didn’t need words to understand each other” one more time.
But it’s good that they understand each other, because it keeps disagreements to a minimum, and it also gives us insight into Darian’s personality. Most of the book is written from Serena’s point of view, so we can only interpret Darian’s words and actions through her. So it’s lucky that she knows him well and can generally serve as a trustworthy “translator” of his mental state.
However, this takes most of the drama out of the relationship, since it eliminates the need for them to have many conversations about their relationship. They just know, and so we just know, and there’s not much to talk about. Back to the space adventures.
The sexual tension is also a frustrating element of the book. The author builds it up nicely in the first few chapters, but there’s no payoff in the understated and abbreviated (though frequently occurring) love scenes that follow.
So if you’re looking for a good space adventure with a little romance, check this one out. If your purpose in romance reading is well-crafted romance first and foremost, proceed with caution.
-- Ellen Hestand