Shooting Star
by Colby Hodge
(Love Spell, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-505-52628-X
Shooting Star falls to earth with a thud as this story of a rogue prince and a slave descends into a confusing, abrupt climax. Contrary to what readers often feel, this story would have been better if it had been about three chapters longer.

Rubikhan Benjamin is the twelfth in line to the throne of the Emperor of the galaxy, son of the Emperorís fourth wife. Since the Emperor now has twenty-one sons, including Benís little brother Stefan, and seems to be in no hurry to stop fathering children, Ben figures heíll enjoy spending his twelfth birthday with his father, and carry on into his future profession as a warrior.

Except the Emperor is too busy and important to keep track of (or recognize) his children, and Ben is skipped over in favor of his half-brother Dyson when nobody will correct the Emperorís mistake. As Dyson is led away to enjoy Benís honors, Benís loyalty to the Emperor dies. The story picks up about eighteen years later, and Ben is now a top pilot and smuggler. He hasnít seen Stefan in years, ever since Stefan abruptly disappeared. Now Ben ďhearsĒ Stefanís voice and feels that his brother is in danger. Benís attempt to find him leads him to the planet Levign, where his ship crashes in a forest.

Tess is a slave with a six-year-old son. She comes across Benís ship and reluctantly decides to help him. Tessís owner is a winemaker whose son fathered Tessís child. Tess intrigues Ben, but she treats him with prickly defensiveness and keeps him at armís length. Stefan is near, under the control of a powerful group of witches known as Circe, and the villainous Dyson is also part of the plot.

Since I didnít read the first book in this series, Stargazer, Benís world was hard to understand. Apparently itís possible for people to be telepathically linked, though how this works with some people and not with others isnít explained. The Circe, for all their evilness, only appear a couple of times in the story.

But that might have been overlooked if the romance was strong and the story well-paced. Readers are out of luck. Ben and Tess have little connection aside from what the author tells us; he thinks sheís irresistible (heaven only knows why, as she spends much of the novel in a defensive snit) and then suddenly theyíre in love. Sorry, Iím not buying it. Then the author seemed to realize she only had fifty pages to wrap up the book, and the action started occurring at a breakneck pace, with events often glossed over or left out completely.

There is a small bit of suspense about drug smuggling that alert readers will figure out in the second chapter, but other than that, this is space opera romance, and not even a well-done one at that. Ben is intriguing, but isnít developed past ďhandsome space pilot,Ē and Tess is borderline irritating. There are hints that Stefan might be a future book hero, and he might be worth visiting. Overall,Shooting Star simply fizzles out.

Cathy Sova


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