Linnea Sinclair’s milSF is very, very good.

Today’s reviews are on Linnea Sinclair‘s sequential military science fiction (milSF) titles HOPE’S FOLLY and REBELS AND LOVERS.   Sinclair is best known as a writer of romantic science fiction, but these two books are somewhat of a departure as the romance is obviously secondary to the action, perhaps in order to cross over to a wider audience.  They both succeed brilliantly as milSF novels, while only HOPE’S FOLLY hits fully on a romantic level . . . but even without the romantic angle in REBELS AND LOVERS being as strong, it’s still a fine, worthy book by an excellent author.

We start with HOPE’S FOLLY, in which Fleet Admiral Philip Guthrie has rebelled against his Empire, mostly because the Empire has been usurped by a madman, Darius Tage, who’ll do anything for power — including turning verboten weaponry against children if it’ll help him turn a profit somehow.   Guthrie has been badly wounded, necessitating a cane and physical therapy, most of which he skips; he’s in his mid-40s, in the middle of a war, and romance is by far the furthest thing on his mind.

When Guthrie ran from the Empire, many of his top men and women did, too.  But there aren’t enough ships for everyone who’s already rebelled, much less the rest of the honest Empire captains who don’t wish to deal with a madman, so more rebels keep coming out of the woodwork all the time.  This is why Guthrie needs a new flagship, pronto, so when a battlecruiser becomes available, he grabs it even though it needs a great deal of repair and is named — you guessed it — Hope’s Folly (not for the common phrase, but because it was last a merchant ship/fruit hauler and named after the merchant’s only daughter — recently killed in an unprovoked attack by Empire militia sent by the nasty Tage — and her cat, Folly).

On the way to pick up the Folly he runs into Rya Bennton, the daughter of his now-deceased best friend (and former CO) Cory Bennton.   Rya is twenty-nine years old, a devotee of weaponry, uses the common Anglo-Saxon word for fornication more often than is good for her and knows it, and as she puts it wryly more than once, “has hips and thighs.”  She weighs thirty pounds more than optimal but is in excellent shape and condition due to her former job as Special Protection Service — these are sometimes assassins, but are more often used to protect against an assassin, and on Empire ships are used most as the chief of ship’s security.  Normally someone like Rya Bennton wouldn’t rebel under any circumstances, but when she finds out her father has died in an unprovoked attack by Tage, she’s had it — and is off to find the Alliance.

On a flea-bitten port out in the middle of no man’s land, she runs into Philip Guthrie and saves him from being assassinated without him, at first, knowing who she is.  (This is because the last time he saw her, she was only nine years old and things have obviously changed quite a bit since then.)  They find a common bond in their love of guns — all sorts of guns — and Guthrie is impressed by Bennton’s good sense as well as her marksmanship, every bit as good as his.  She is obviously in much better physical shape and condition than he, which worries him, along with her much younger age, but their physical attraction is obvious from the start.

The refreshing thing about HOPE’S FOLLY is that the story, not the romance, comes first — but without the romantic angle, I’m not sure I’d care as much about these two.  These are highly driven people who are really angry, albeit for a good reason; they aren’t folks I’d want to meet in a dark alley despite their obvious idealism and care for the innocent.

In any event, both elements work well and result in a highly satisfactory conclusion for all concerned — this is an outstanding novel that works on every level.  Don’t miss HOPE’S FOLLY.

As for REBELS AND LOVERS, things are a bit different.  Devin Guthrie is an accountant, the last person anyone would ever think would want to get in touch with his inner “alpha male,” yet has had an attraction to ship captain Makaiden (“Kaidee”) Griggs for years and has done nothing about it.   He’s the younger brother of Philip Guthrie, and comes from a great deal of money; his family is still bound to the Empire, even though Devin obviously sympathizes with his brother.  Devin has no patience for family duties, and what seems like few social skills aside from those forced on him; this is a man in his mid-30s who’s never asserted himself but does have two military skills on his side: he’s great with computers, and he’s an excellent marksman.

When Devin’s nephew Johnathan III (called “Trip” or “Trippy”), who’s only 19, disappears from college, Devin knows something’s wrong even before he finds out that Trippy’s bodyguard is dead.  He leaves his family, his family-approved fiancée (someone he likes and tolerates, but does not love), and his job behind and tracks Trippy to yet another remote space station.  Fortunately for him, Kaidee Griggs is also there and has formed a sort of mentor relationship with Trippy (whom she recognized as she used to work for the Guthrie family).  Devin and Kaidee join forces to try to save Trippy’s life, then strike out to find Philip Guthrie and join the Alliance as that seems best for all concerned.

The military science fiction of REBELS AND LOVERS is excellent; the stuff about computers, ships, weaponry, all of that, plus the backgrounds of Kaidee and Devin, all make sense.  I liked using Trippy as a plot device as well as a character; it made sense that both Kaidee and Devin would want to save this young man’s life, and it also made sense that Devin would throw his entire life away to get his nephew to safety.

But the romance here is not quite right.  There’s more sexual attraction going on than actual romance, and while that is realistic — these two are in a war zone, along with Trippy and everyone else along for the ride — it is not as satisfying as the previous book HOPE’S FOLLY.  I realize lovers often have a difficult time learning to communicate; if it was easy, no one would do it — not in real life, not in a book.  But I have a problem with passages like this one (from page 364):

“You don’t believe me.”

She turned back, her expression softening.  “No, idiot that I am, I do.  It’s just that . . . ”  And she stopped.

He heard a slight quavering in her voice.  It was all he needed to shove himself out of his chair and cross the short distance to where she sat at the front of the bridge, arms now crossed defensively over her chest.

He touched her shoulder, then cupped her face with his hand before she could pull back.  “You’re not an idiot.  I could never fall in love with an idiot.”

Something flashed in her eyes, then she sighed.  Confusion?  Frustration? Capitulation?  He couldn’t tell.

“I can’t . . . deal with this right now, Devin.  I have an Imperial destroyer an hour behind me and closing, Talgarrath two and a half hours in front of me, and no idea what’s waiting for us when we get dirtside.  If we get dirtside.”

And then what happens?  Does Devin back off?  Of course he doesn’t; he instead kisses Kaidee on her own bridge, where she’s already told him she doesn’t want him, and she responds rather than shoves him away.   Comparing the behavior of Kaidee Griggs with Rya Bennton, there’s no comparison; Rya will kick your butt if you try to do something against her will, and rightfully so, while Kaidee just puts up with it, ship captain or no.  And to my mind, Kaidee’s behavior while in a war zone just doesn’t cut it.

Look.  This is a good book, regardless of how lacking I found the romance angle.  REBELS AND LOVERS has good interplay between the characters, a nice infatuation between Devin and Kaidee, and some really good ship-running stuff.   I think it’s a book everyone will enjoy, especially my male friends who do not expect there to be a solid romance in every milSF book.

But compared to HOPE’S FOLLY, it is not as good.  And compared to Linnea Sinclair’s best books — of which HOPE’S FOLLY is only one; the other two I really enjoy and turn to again and again are AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS and THE DOWN-HOME ZOMBIE BLUES REBELS AND LOVERS just doesn’t quite hit on all cylinders, partly because the romance still feels up in the air as Kaidee never seems to feel settled in this romance (as she’s far below Devin, socially, on the totem pole and knows it; she’s also average-looking and a bit on the plump side, and knows that, too).

The passage I quoted is all you need to see the problems here.  They aren’t huge ones, but they are there — mostly, if a woman is a ship captain, romance should not be going on unless the ship is in hyperdrive, warp, or whatever they’re using to get across big distances in a blink of an eye.  And secondarily, Devin’s whole “I’m going to be an alpha male now” shtick just didn’t work for me in the way I’m sure Ms. Sinclair was hoping.  I kept seeing this slight man who’s an accountant and computer genius trying to dominate someone he feels he’s in love with, and I didn’t buy it at all.  This is not the union of two equals, as it was in HOPE’S FOLLY; this is the union of a taker and a giver, and it’s obvious which one is which.

As for grades, here we go:

HOPE’S FOLLY:  A.  A first-rate novel in every respect.  Excellent adventure.  Excellent intrigue.  Excellent romance.   A keeper.

REBELS AND LOVERS: B+.  Works on the suspense, adventure and military levels, but the romance is a bit flat.  (I’m still waiting for Kaidee to kick Devin’s butt off the bridge; Ms. Sinclair, please write a sequel and have Kaidee do just that, and I’ll up this review to an A-.)

— Reviewed by Barb.

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  1. New review up at SBR for Sinclair’s “Hope’s Folly” and “Rebels and Lovers” « Barb Caffrey's Blog

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