Ravyn’s Flight by Patti O’Shea
(Dorchester, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52516-X
****
They’re strong. They’re sexy. They’re alpha as all get-out. They’re SEALs in space!

Ravyn Verdier is the communications specialist in a Colonization Assessment Team evaluating the planet of Jarved Nine. The group is gathered in the common room of their headquarters and, thinking it would be a nice treat, Ravyn leaves to see if she can tune in a baseball broadcast from Earth. When she returns, she finds the floor littered with the mutilated corpses of her teammates.

Captain Damon Brody, Western Alliance Spec Ops, is leading a small team in military maneuvers on Jarved Nine when they receive the CAT team’s distress signal. Responding, the team finds the bloodbath - and Ravyn huddled under a bunk.

While the rest of the team investigates, Damon takes Ravyn away from the carnage to find out what she knows. When she tells him she did not trigger the emergency beacon he tries unsuccessfully to contact his men. A search finds the team of highly trained fighters - all are dead, like the CAT team, and none look like they put up a fight. Every transport is wrecked, including Damon’s supposedly attack-proof military shuttle.

With no idea who or what slaughtered their friends, Damon and Ravyn set out on foot for the Old City. The centuries-old remains of a previous civilization, the Old City has a wall around it, which they hope will offer some protection. Help will come from Earth when neither the CAT nor Spec Ops teams check in, but it will take rescuers at least three weeks to reach Jarved Nine. For now they’re on their own.

At first I thought the author’s name must be a pseudonym; it’s difficult to believe this terrific book is anybody’s first. It’s beautifully paced, builds tension and even shocks where it needs to without forgetting who the audience is, and the characters are smart, multi-dimensional and consistently true to their characters and the situation. In other words, unlike many oft-published romance authors, Ms. O’Shea maintains total control over her story at all times while remaining completely invisible to the reader.

Both Ravyn and Damon are strong, determined individuals made even more attractive by their insecurities. He’s definitely the rugged, take-charge alpha military male, but hard experience has taught him he’s not infallible. This helps make Damon more open minded than similar characters, softening the edge of power that can make these guys feel like human steamrollers.

Ravyn is confident enough in her own abilities to let Damon take the lead when appropriate and to step in when its necessary - it’s always a wonderful moment in a book like this when the heroine can save the hero for a change. She’s not Wonder Woman, though, and it’s enormously satisfying that she fights her inner demons as fiercely as the outer ones.

The romance has a nice, convincing build that always feels as though it’s going somewhere without seeming rushed. Ravyn and Damon definitely notice each other right from the beginning, but the attraction and the emotional involvement develop gradually, just slowly enough to keep us eagerly anticipating the next step.

And, lest we begin to take these two for granted, there’s an engaging secondary romance between Ravyn’s brother and best friend, both of whom are with the incoming rescue team. Alex, also with Spec Ops, is the uber-alpha and he definitely increases our appreciation of Damon. Stacey, while clever and competent in her own right, is not quite as capable as Ravyn. As a result, Alex and Stacey’s relationship is rockier, providing an energetic conflict that Ravyn and Damon, who are dependent on each other for their survival, cannot supply.

If the first half of the book could be easily transformed into a current-day SEAL rescue operation in any jungle on this planet, and the science fiction is a bit on the lite side, who cares? It’s fun, it’s a fast-paced adventure and an excellent love story, and there are far too few futuristic romances of this caliber to choose from. The nits are ones that I think many fans of the sub-genre will happily overlook to be so well entertained. So Ms. O’Shea (if that really is your name) nicely done!

--Judi McKee


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