Rooting for the underdog can make for a fantastic story. When it’s the last space ship left to lead the Rebellion, it’s the stuff of great space opera. Throw in a forgotten prison colony and enough sexual tension to power the ship by itself, and you’ve got that best of all possible universes–science fiction romance. Queenie’s Brigade by Heather Massey is just that, a terrific science fiction romance. Something there just isn’t enough of these days.
Michael Drake is the captain of the UFE Relentless. And his ship is that last survivor. Being the captain, he knows in his bones that duty must come first. And his duty is not to go down with his ship. His ship is equipped with technology that was “adopted” from a captured enemy vessel. Drake’s duty is to take his ship and crew out of certain death and equip other ships with the new tech, then come back and kick the Calithian Empire’s ass out of Earth space.
But the hyperspace jump that took Relentless out of the battle did not put her into friendly space. Or even neutral space. That hybrid tech was not precisely reliable. Or totally aimable. Relentless and her crew found themselves at the equivalent of the ass end of nowhere, orbiting the worst penal planet in Earth’s jurisdiction, desperately in need of repairs and out of options.
Only one problem. The penal planet had been taken over. The inmates were running the jail. The most hardened criminals that Earth needed to incarcerate. And those convicts outnumbered the crew of the Relentless. Something Captain Michael Drake was all too aware of–after the new “overseers” of Hades Station had him and his crew firmly in their clutches.
Drake had hoped to use the convicts as military manpower to help drive back Earth’s invaders. After seeing them in action, he was even more impressed with their potential, even though it was turned against him and his crew. But their leader, Queenie, truly captivated him–in every possible way.
Escape Rating A: I read this in one sitting. When I picked it up to write the review, I got sucked into it again. It’s that good.
The beginning of the story is from Drake’s point of view, but after that, it alternates between Drake and Queenie. Queenie is a fascinating character, having been raised to be “tough as nails” in order to become the leader of the prison gangs, but not ever being allowed to lower her guard with anyone. Drake is the first person who treats her as an equal.
There have been a lot of comparisons between Queenie’s Brigade and the book/movie The Dirty Dozen, because of the whole “recruit convicts to become soldiers” aspect. Since the Dirty Dozen already were soldiers, after all, they were in the military stockade when they were recruited for that specific mission, I didn’t see that link so much as a couple of other things.
One that caught my attention was the issue of the hereditary penal colony. Drake assumes Queenie must have been convicted of some crime, and is shocked to discover that she was born on Hades. Earth has successfully buried the secret that a sentence to Hades is forever. It reminded me of Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Or the warrior women in Kate Douglass’ DemonSlayer (Demonfire, Hellfire, Starfire) series, where the Atlantean society has forgotten that warrior women even existed, let alone that they were imprisoned, and that their daughters are still imprisoned.
Then there’s the relationship between Queenie and Drake that eventually leads to romance. At first, it’s a struggle for the two leaders to find a way for their groups to work together. They need to each maintain leadership of their own crew, and Queenie has to be seen as in control, or she will lose control of the prison gangs that run Hades. But they have to find a way to eventually meld the groups, or they’ll never get off Hades! Queenie and Drake made me think of Janeway and Chakotay on Star Trek Voyager, except that the roles were reversed, and Heather Massey did right by them. Thanks Heather!