Moonstruck
by Susan Grant, futuristic (2008)
HQN, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77259-9


Moonstruck is actually connected to Susan Grant's previous trilogy, but this one can be read as a standalone and it is also a new start of sorts. After all, this one leaves Earth for what Ms Grant does best: romantic military science-fiction. Think, oh, Star Trek, only with more excitement, or Suzanne Brockmann's Navy SEAL stories set in space minus the soap opera musical beds.

Moonstruck features one of the coolest alpha heroines ever: Admiral Britasha Bandar. Let this be a point of sales or a warning depending on how you like your heroines: this is a story where the heroine takes charge, not the hero. He's an authority man, but he not only reports to Brit in this story, he respects and adores her for being who she is. And you know a military heroine can't command the respect of her superiors and her crew members without being twice as tough as a male military authority figure.

Anyway, a bit of a primer: we have basically three factions in this story. We have Earth in one corner, the bunch of people known as the Coalition in the other corner, and in this corner we have the Drakken Horde. Yeah, I know, World of Warcraft, but still, it's all cool. When this story opens, the Drakken Horde have been beaten and their tyrants are either in hiding or dead, having been executed as war criminals by the Coalition people. However, peace is not going to come automatically to all three factions. The Coalition, who is now in charge with Earth tagging along for the ride, has decided that the new we-are-family state of affairs will endure despite the challenges faced by all of them. Now that everyone is under one big happy nation called the Triad, Prince-Admiral Zaafran and his people decide that there is no better way to show that the Triad is here to stay by having one of the Coalition's more celebrated heroes lead a new starship that will have a crew consisting of Coalition, Earth, and Drakken members.

This is how Brit finds herself in command of Unity, which won't be so bad since she thinks the spacecraft to be magnificent if she also didn't have a Drakken as a second-in-command. Worse, he's Finn Rorkken, the Drakken captain who eluded her like a bad penny that just wouldn't go away during the war. But because she's a good soldier and she'd rather not be stuck behind a desk if she can help it, she'd treat this one like a job. She's a professional. What she doesn't anticipate, however, is that Finn reminds her of her beloved late husband from the very moment they come face to face. The Drakken killed her family a long time ago, and now, poor Brit has to reconcile her memories of her husband, her guilt over her attraction to Finn, and her increasing respect and even affection for her second-in-command as he proves to be her best ally when Unity heads off into space.

What I like in this story is how Ms Grant allows Brit to be vulnerable, but even then, Brit never cedes her authority to Finn. Brit's emotional vulnerabilities aren't a compensation for her personality that some people may deem "not feminine", but instead, they reveal a human being underneath her tough-as-nails exterior. As much as I adore Brit, Ms Grant also has me feeling heartbroken for her. Brit's pain feels real here, they aren't just token angst to keep the story interesting. Finn is a gentleman underneath all that male authority figure air of his, but he too has his baggage - he finds himself torn between wanting to work with the Coalition for the sake of his people and wanting to fit in with his people, many of whom don't necessarily share his ideals.

I also like how Ms Grant doesn't hide the fact that it is not going to be easy to get three different races, two of which had been enemies at war for so long, to live together. The Coalition, being the winner and the race with superior technology, end up in a position of power over the Drakken, and this leads to some ugly scenes from members of both races. You can make parallels to some situations in the world today if you wish. I'm just pleased that Ms Grant is making a good effort here to inject as much realism as possible. Don't worry, folks, however, because this story isn't that bleak or depressing. It's just that Ms Grant doesn't sugarcoat things or pigeonhole her characters as one-dimensional good or bad guys and I like that.

For a long time, this story takes place on Unity and nothing dramatic happens. However, I find this story to be a very absorbing read despite the lack of explosions because of the emotional interplays between Brit and Finn. These two have chemistry and plenty of realistic angst to bring on the drama.

There is a secondary romance that I suspect will play out throughout the series. Fortunately, the players in that romance aren't childish morons like a certain couple named Sam and Alyssa. Instead, this one provides a sometimes amusing and always lighter foil to the angst-ridden relationship between Brit and Finn.

If I have any complaints, it's how the author allows Brit and Finn to get into bed so early in the story. I know, it isn't a romance novel unless the two main characters do the boogie-woogie, but I can't help thinking that the romance between those two would be so much more powerful if those two had never consummated their relationship in this book. The sex scenes deflates much of the sexual tension between them. Also, physical intimacy causes the characters to sometimes dwell too much on their bedroom activities later in the story when they should be focusing at the task at hand. I find myself worrying that Ms Grant will soon have the main characters, muddled by their addled hormones, start doing stupid things. Fortunately, that never happens here.

Moonstruck is a fabulous futuristic romance with a take-charge heroine at the helm and being unapologetic about who she is. The pacing never falters and the emotions pretty much burn through the pages, making this one easily one of the author's best books to date. I'd also like to thank the author for not littering the story with bizarre made-up words and not capitalizing words unnecessarily. Moonstruck leaves me dazzled and starstruck, reminding me that there is definitely something more than tedious vampires and randy werewolves in the paranormal genre.

Rating: 94


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