I’ve been a fan of Sara A. Hoyt since I read Ill met by Moonlight back in 2002, I reviewed Heart of Light last March, and I read Gentleman Takes a Chance over the Holidays and was planning on doing a review of it sometime after the first of the year. Then, I found out that Ms. Hoyt was doing a “blog tour" to promote her new book DarkShip Theives. I had just read a teaser chapter for DarkShip Thieves in the back of Gentleman Takes a Chance, and had put it high on my mental TBR list so I contacted Ms Hoyt about doing a guest spot here at Flying Whales and she agreed. You can read her Guest Blog here.
I enjoyed DarkShip Thieves a great deal. All the other books I have read by Ms. Hoyt were fantasy. One of the things I liked best about them is that they were not traditional sword-and-sorcery-coming-of-age-quest stories that seem to take up so much fantasy shelf space. Even when the plot involves a quest or character maturation it happenes in slightly nontraditional unexpected way. I Iike that. I also like that her stories are built around relationships, the development and growth of the characters relationships is just as important as finding the magic gem, or getting the serial killer targeting shape changers. I hesitate to say they are Fantasy Romance, because although a HEA for the main characters is part of the plot resolution there isn’t much time spent on the physical resolution of the HEA. In other words, while there is romance there are not the sort of sex scenes that seem to define the Romance genre these days.
With DarkShip Thieves Ms. Hoyt does with Space Opera the same thing she has been doing for years with Fantasy.
The story takes place in several centuries after a semi-apocalypse caused by a rebellion against a planet wide government run by a group super bureaucrats bioengineered to be clever, honest and benevolent rulers. They were known as Mules since they were designed to work hard and they could not have offspring. Of course things went wrong with that idea and their time in power ended in a reign of terror and the slaughter many innocent humans as well as the Mules and their followers. This lead to the outlawing of any bioengineering work on humans and bio-tech in general. Civilization on Earth now centers around independent city-states ruled by Good Men. Athena Hera Sinistra is the heir to the Good Man who runs Syracuse Seacity. She is not a sweet little debutant, but a young woman with a rough and tumble past. It would be very easy not to like Thena, and I think the author took a chance with giving her as hard an edge as she did, but it works. Thena is prickly and anti-social, but since the story is told from her point of view the reader bonds with her early on and is pulled along for the whole thrill ride.
On the way home from a dog-and-pony show meet-and-greet with her Father, of Circum Terra, a scientific research space station in orbit not too far from Earth , Thena wakes as someone is sneaking into her cabin. Dressed in only a nightie, and armed only with a high fashion boot with a clunky metal heal, (This wonderfully quirky choice for a weapon really helped get me hooked on the story) Thena fights off her attacker and several other members of her father’s security staff. They all seem to have switched sides, may have already killed her father, and now want to hurt her. Unsure of who to trust she leaves her father’s ship in an escape pod and heads back toward Circum Terra.
This is a kick-ass action sequence, one of several in the book. Tiny sexy female heroes who beat the crap out of larger male bad guys are one of my pet peeves. They are everyplace in Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance these days. I’m sick to death of this character type, because most of the time they are just too improbable. Unlike most of these ball-busting female characters Thena works for me because one of the first things we learn about her is that she has spent her entire life outsmarting and breaking out of private academies, reform schools, rehab clinics, and tough love military boot camps. Sure, she is un-naturally fast and strong for her size, but she also has experience, and she’s smart. Most of the time she is mentally one step ahead of the folks chasing her. That makes her ability to beat up a whole goon squad believable.
Although Thena thinks she has seen her father either dead or gravely injured during her escape while in the escape pod, she overhears a message from him telling Circum Terra that she is having a drug induced mental breakdown and that they should detain her as soon as she docks. Given her sordid past this is believable, and Thena decides to try to hide in the nearby powertrees. They are artifacts of the Mules reign, plants designed to grown in space harvest solar energy and store it in battery like pods. Thery are the main reason Circum Terra is located where it is. Thena hopes one of the harvesters who gather their pods to be converted to fuel will help her escape whoever has taken over her father’s ship.
Because of the ban on bioengineering no one alive knows much about the powertree's biology and instead of growing in easily tended rows they now grow in thick briar like tangles. Harvesters tell stories of DarkShips piloted by escaped Mules who hide in the powertrees stealing pods and sometimes attacking Harvesters, but they are considered folklore not reality. Going into the powertrees is dangerous because it is very easy for a ship to get caught in their twisted branches or brush against one of the power pods and be blown up. After entering the powertree thicket Thena’s life pod runs into something, but it’s not part of the powertree . It’s a space ship, one unlike any ship she has ever seen, it is completely dark, designed to not show up in light or on ship’s scanners. A DarkShip.
The pilot of the ship, Cat Kit Klaavil, is quite upset that she has run into his ship and damaged some of its sensor. He takes her lifepod onboard anyway, saving Thena’s life even though he thinks she is an “Earthworm” spy sent to trap a Darkship. He’s a nice looking young man, except for his calico hair and catlike dark adapted eyes, obviously the result of biogen . (Cat is a title that has to do with the biogen he has gone through to become a DarkShip pilot) His biogen makes it hard for Thena to trust him or believe anything he say. She does not let him tying her up, and locking her in an empty cabin on his ship, stop her from trying to escape. She's escaped from worse places. Unfortunately she has finally met her match. Kit is faster and stronger than she is, and he has not problems knocking her on her bottom every time she attacks him. He says he is not a Mule, but his obvious biogen scares Thena, as does the strange mental bond they seem to share.
In the end the two escape the people looking for Thena, although not before both Kit and his ship have been seen by Thena's attackers. They flee to Kit’s home, a hidden asteroid colony called Eden. There Thena learns that what she knows about the reign of the Mule is not the complete truth. Life on Eden calls into question all her ideas about the nature of government and civil society. Also, by being accepted into Kit’s large eclectic family she sees for the first time what family is supposed to be about.
Kit and Thena are attracted to each other from the start. Neither of them is a real prize in the personality department, but they smooth each other’s rough edges in a way that makes them both better together than either is apart. Thena learns that being a pain in the butt isn’t the only way to interact with the world. Kit learns that running away from unpleasant secrets isn’t the answer. There are several plot twists. Kit and Thena return to Earth to search for missing DarkShips which may have been caught stealing pods in the powertrees. We get a glimpse of the grittey broomer gang underworld where Thena spent most of her life avoiding the hollow glittering, but hollow, life of her Father’s social circle. Thena rescues Kit from her father’s evil clutches in a wonderful one-escape-after-another action sequence that is almost cinematic. There are some more plot twists. Kit and Thena save the day, and win a Happily Ever After.