Games of Command
by Linnea Sinclair
(Bantam, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-553-58963-4
****
Sinclair has been garnering buzz among futuristic romance fans and has a RITA award (for Gabriel's Ghost) for her efforts. For fans hungry for big, meaty space operas, Games of Command is just the ticket. Originally published several years ago as an ebook titled Command Performance, it was part of a larger series called Alliance Command. Sinclair took this originally idea, expanded it under this new title, and the result is a doorstop of a book that clocks in at over 500 pages.

Once sworn enemies, the United Coalition and the Triad have declared peace and formed the Alliance. U-Cee Captain Tasha Sebastian spent years being the thorn in the side of Triade biocybe, Admiral Branden Kel-Paten. Now that the two sides are best of friends (well sort of), Kel-Paten has demanded that Tasha be assigned to his ship, the Vaxxar. While the thought of working on the premier huntership excites Tasha, working directly with Kel-Paten worries her. Tasha has a past; a past the U-Cees buried because she was so valuable. Plus, she was such a thorn in his side during the war, Tasha wonders if Kel-Paten getting her on his ship is a convenient way for him to seek revenge.

The truth is far less unsavory than that. Branden is a biocype. He started out life as human, but then went through a series of horrifying, brutal surgeries. He's now more machine than man, but he's somehow managed to fall in love with Tasha. In fact, he's desperately in love with her, and has no clue what to do about he. He needs to be near her, wants a relationship with her, but she sees him as "not human." What's the poor guy to do?

When a book clocks in at over 500 pages that suggests that there is quite a bit of plot, and Games of Command has that in spades. The bulk of the story centers on Jace Serafino, a wanted smuggler that Kel-Paten has been ordered to bring in alive. But before they find Jace, he finds them, which worries everyone on board - especially Tasha because Jace knows her entire sordid past. Then there is Tasha's best friend, Dr. Eden Fynn, who has to keep Serafino alive, plus try to figure out why she's getting weird readings from Kel-Paten. The empath is starting to suspect that the Admiral has feelings for Tasha.

This story works when the author devotes time to Tasha and Branden. In fact, Branden pretty much makes the entire book. He's hopelessly in love, but feels completely unworthy. He's shy, awkward, and given that he's more machine than man, has no idea how to win Tasha's heart. For her part, she's in the dark for a large portion of the story, and you just feel for the guy when she opens her mouth and inserts her foot.

Honestly, the other stuff in this story tends to detract from what makes the romance so interesting. With such a big plot and a large word count, the author spends time on the secondary romance, a conspiracy plot, lots of action scenes, and two pet furzels (think of them as telepathic cats) that border on overly-precious. Back-story for both Tasha and Branden is hinted at - her life prior to joining the U-Cees, the torture he endured becoming a biocype - but it's never fully explored, and it's a bit of a disappointment.

That said, around the halfway point the entire book really starts to cook. Tasha gets a clue to "what's up with Kel-Paten," the Serafino and conspiracy story lines take hold, and all the precious stuff with the furzels starts to make sense. Still, there were moments over the course of the story that I wished the author had scaled back her ambitious plot and focused solely on the romance of Tasha and Branden. He's such an adorable hero and she's a capable, in-charge heroine. That said, fans hungry for "big stories" and "big books" will eat up every word. It's really remarkable, and despite this reviewer's initial impatience, I was completely and totally emotionally invested. It might require more patience for some than others, but Games of Command pays off in a big way.

--Wendy Crutcher


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