Review: Ladder to the Red Star by Jael Wye

ladder to the red star by jael wyeFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Once Upon a Red World #2
Length: 242 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: April 28, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

Once upon a ruined Earth 300 years in the future…

Jacques Tallinn, biotech smuggler and thief, is after the cure for a brain disorder he’s suffered since childhood—a disorder inflicted by a powerful tyrant. To get the cure, Jacques will need to climb the space elevator to the new Zenith space station hovering above Earth and go undercover in the lab where it’s produced.

Martian head tech Devi Chandra is immediately intrigued by her sexy new lab assistant. Though she insists on keeping things professional, she finds herself charmed by Jacques. Until he betrays her trust, kidnapping her and spiriting her off to Earth.

All Jacques needed to do was steal the biotech and get back home. But when things go wrong, he can’t bring himself to leave Devi behind. Now she’s injured and a simple caper has become an intergalactic cause, endangering his life and the lives of millions of others. But the hardest part? Winning back Devi’s trust.

My Review:

The concept of space elevators has always been one of the classics for a reason. Not only does it produce the high-tech/high-tension adventure of building the elevator itself, but the creation or existence of the elevator provides endless opportunities for comparing life at the two opposite ends of the vehicle.

ice red by jael wyeIn the universe of Jael Wye’s Ladder to the Red Star, even more so than in the first fascinating book, Ice Red (see last week’s review) there’s the contrast between the necessarily advanced technology world of the space station Zenith where the elevator terminates, and a post-Global Warming Earth, where people are weighed down not just by gravity, but also by grinding poverty and quickly diminishing resources.

Max Ross may be a great engineer, but he’s an absolutely lousy dad. The action/adventure in Ice Red is kicked off because he’s such a neglectful father that he married a murdering, thieving sociopathic bitch after his first wife died. His daughter Bianca spends the whole story dodging from her stepmother’s killer thugs while he’s off on Earth finalizing the building of his space elevator.

Devi Chandra is the daughter he doesn’t even know he has, which is a good trick considering that Mars inhabitants generally can’t conceive a child the good old-fashioned way. Devi got herself attached to the medical complex on Zenith Station just so she would have a chance to interact with her old man.

It all goes horribly wrong. Just as in the first book with stepmother Victoria, in Ladder to the Red Star Devi finds herself trying to stay one step out of the evil clutches (much too literally) of Enrique Kurtz, her bio-dad’s partner in the space elevator.

Kurtz wants to use Devi to blackmail her dad into continuing the slaving contracts that he had with the evil stepmother. Oh, and he wants to completely break her will and spirit with physical and sexual abuse. He’s a complete psychopath, but a successful one.

But instead of being trapped, Devi makes common cause with someone who is out to get her for less nefarious reasons, even if Jacques Tallin is using nefarious means.

Jacques lied and stole in order to get on the space station and into Devi’s lab. She is not merely a doctor, but a genius at the gene therapy called “Correction” that keeps the Mars inhabitants from dying of cosmic radiation, and cures just about everything from the common cold to old age.

Jacques needs it to cure deathly illnesses. Both his own and his mother’s. And for that, he has to keep Devi free and away from Kurtz. At least until he kidnaps her.

The question is whether Jacques is really saving her from Kurtz’ evil clutches, or whether he just wants to keep her in his own grasp.

Escape Rating B: Ladder to the Red Star is a love story that uses a science fictional setting to play out its romance. But this one is definitely all about the romance. The worldbuilding is just enough to tease the reader with the good (and bad) consequences of life in the future.

It also helps that this is an extension of the world in the previous book. There’s less heavy lifting involved (space elevator notwithstanding).

In some ways, this is a “kidnapped by a pirate” romance. It’s not just that Jacques is a smuggler, but that he takes her to his remote tropical island, and she falls for him anyway. Or maybe because.

One of the things that makes Ladder to the Red Star different from the typical pirate romance is Jacques. He was experimented on as a young teen in a prison owned and operated by Kurtz. The medical and psychological experiments removed his ability to feel anything; pain, pleasure or even touch. It makes him a formidable fighter, completely fearless, but he’s also losing his ability to fake being human. Nothing affects him.

Then Devi works her medical magic on him, and he’s suddenly alive. (Maybe there’s some Pinocchio in here too!) He falls for Devi, the first person who gave him back his life. There is mutual trust and the beginnings of a relationship. Then he kidnaps her and has to start the trust-building all over again.

There are two villains in this story; the sadistic Kurtz and the fanatical Eschaton cult. Kurtz looms like a giant monster over the entire story, but then barely figures in the climax. His economic motives made some sense, but he was more than a bit bwahaha crazy, more than necessary. It’s the anti-science, anti-medicine Eschatons who turn out to be the real enemy.

Max Ross’ relationships, or lack thereof, with his daughters almost makes him the true villain, depending on how you look at things. But his daughters, both Bianca and Devi, are terrific.

I hope we see more stories set in this world; the dichotomy between the spacers and the earthers definitely has more tales to tell.


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