Ada von Hasenberg is kinda having a bad day. She’s been captured by mercenaries who’d be happy to inspect the merchandise, her intended husband wants to kidnap her, and she’s sharing a cell with the galaxy’s most wanted criminal.
But Ada, whose relentless forward momentum drives Jessie Mihalik’s debut novel Polaris Rising, is a woman of seemingly infinite resources, including the uncanny ability to discern what others want while keeping what she wants under wraps—skills learned from growing up among the galaxy’s most powerful families.
That leaves her with a few options in her potential captivity:
Albrecht Von Hasenberg was nothing if not thorough. When his security team couldn’t find me and drag me back for my engagement party, he went above and beyond by posting an enormous bounty for my safe return. Of course, he told the news, he was devastated that I was “missing.” He failed to mention that I had left of my own volition. Or that I’d been gone for two years.
“Can I get you some wine? Or perhaps brandy?” the captain asked.
“Wine would be lovely, thank you,” I said. I knew where this road led. I’d been playing this game since I could talk. The captain wanted something and he thought—rightly—that House von Hasenberg could help him get it. As patriarch of one of the three high houses, very few people in the universe welded more power than my father.
As for that most-wanted criminal? Marcus, the enemy of her enemy, is a potential ally—a far more useful one than a befuddled captain mixed up in matters way above his pay grade. And, this being a space opera, the “criminal” Marcus is more than the “evil, traitorous former soldier” he’s been painted as.
As Ada seeks to outrun and outsmart her enemies who include, at one point, her father, her intended, and anyone out for her ransom, the story unfolds at a blistering pace. It’s told entirely through her point of view, but filled with great supporting characters, including Marcus; Veronica the fence, who becomes key to Marcus and Ada’s escape; Rhys, an arms dealer who turns out to an old ally of Marcus’s; and Ada’s sister, who has aided and abetted her sibling’s escape, agreeing that Ada’s intended is not to be trusted.
There are some finely drawn settings, including the smuggler’s world where Marcus and Ada land after their joint escape, a place where everyone is happy to stab one another in the back—sometimes literally. Another world is divided by levels, with the uppermost populated by the literal higher-ups, the only ones who have access to the sun. Of course, a space opera wouldn’t be complete without a space battle and a chase, and there’s at least two of each.
But, and here’s where Polaris Rising takes a turn: it is also a satisfying romance.
I know, I know. Some sci-fi readers run from the word “romance,” but the genre is full of them, under one label or another, from Lois McMaster Bujold’s wonderful A Civil Campaign to the Liadan Universe novels of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. And there’s one famous ultra-famous SF couple that bears a striking resemblance to Ada and Marcus: Leia Organa and Han Solo.
Like Leia, Ada is from a powerful galactic family. Like Leia, she has a driving need to see justice done and protect people. Like Han, Marcus is a rogue living at the edges of society. Like Han, he’s not always willing on the surface to help, but he makes the right choices when the chips are down.
The archetypes are there, though Polaris Rising is far from a Star Wars clone.
The romance helps hold the story together, lending emotional depth to the whiz-bang adventure. Neither Ada nor Marcus is certain they can trust the other, especially due to class differences. It’s only by the choices they each make throughout that trust is established. At the same time, Ada realizes how few people in her former life she can truly rely on, up to and including her intended husband, who’s hiding a secret that could gain his family ultimate domination of the galaxy.
Polaris Rising is a self-contained story, but a sequel is already arriving before the end of the year. There’s plenty of galaxy left to explore.
Polaris Rising is available now. You can read an excerpt here.
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