Review: Escape Velocity by Jess Anastasi

escape velocity by jess anastasiFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Valiant Knox #1
Length: 192 pages
Publisher: Entangled Select Otherworld
Date Released: February 2, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

Rebuilding his life. And rediscovering love… Ilari, Brannon System, 2436

At first, Dr. Sacha Dalton is simply curious about the prisoner of war admitted to her med-lab…until she sees who it is. For Commander Kai Yang—the commander of the battleship Valiant Knox—has long been thought dead. Killed in action. But after almost a year and half, he’s returned home. Returned to her.Kai is recovering from his ordeal and under the watchful care of Sacha, his childhood friend and the widow of his best friend. Only now, their friendship has grown and deepened into something far deeper, and far more complicated. Yet as Kai’s body recovers, his psyche remains broken. How could he ever be the man he was, and the man Sacha deserves? But an intergalactic war has a way of forcing a man to be the hero he was always meant to be…

My Review:

Before I start critiquing, let me say at the beginning that I had a terrific time aboard the Valiant Knox in Escape Velocity. But because this is science fiction romance, I have a few things that are niggling at me.

The plot of Escape Velocity is relatively straightforward. One of the doctors aboard the space ship Valiant Knox has had the universe’s worst year and a half. Her best friend was declared KIA and her husband was very definitely killed in action.

That best friend, Commander Kai Yang, has had a time equally as bad. He was NOT killed in action. He was captured by the enemy and kept prisoner in their “re-education center”. The CSS are fundamentalists, and not just when it comes to technology. They want to step back from the high-tech universe and go back to their roots, but they don’t seem to care how many spaceships they have to steal along the way in order to fight their more technologically advanced enemy.

The CSS soldiers are real fanatics who don’t seem to care if they die to further their cause, which wasn’t spelled out nearly well enough for me. They’re not winning, but they are not losing either. It’s always difficult to fight an enemy who does not give a damn about his own life as long as he can take you with him. Think suicide bombers on steroids. Or at least the bombs are on steroids.

Kai escapes from prison in a rather grisly, but totally necessary, way. It’s gut-wrenching and heart-rending and totally makes you feel for his pain and his trauma. Which is really important for the rest of the story.

Kai escapes the prison grounds and is rescued by a patrol ship, only to reach the Valiant Knox, a ship he once commanded, to discover that everyone believes he was dead, and that there have been a whole lot of changes while he was gone. Especially changes to himself. Just because he physically escaped that prison does not mean that he has escaped psychologically.

He doesn’t even want to think the phrase “PTSD”, but it keeps staring him in the face and derailing his attempts to return to his old life.

His best friend, Dr. Sacha Dalton, is going through a turmoil of her own. She is absolutely overjoyed to have Kai back, but is still emotionally scraped raw by his presumed death followed by the loss of her husband. When Kai returns, she goes on an emotional rollercoaster of her own.

Kai turns to her, not just as the only friend and trustworthy face, but also as the woman he dreamed of in his cell. Thinking of returning to Sacha was one of the things that kept him alive. But he remembered her as married. Now that she is a widow, Kai is able to let a lot of feelings into the light of day that he would have kept bottled up if Sacha’s husband Elliot had still been alive.

Sacha comes back to life, herself. But starting a romantic relationship with Kai is the right kind of wrong. As a doctor, she knows that Kai needs to focus on his own recovery. He can continue to avoid dealing with his PTSD by getting into a relationship. Sacha knows better but can’t resist, then goes through all kinds of guilt for giving in to emotions that she has been burying since long before Kai was captured.

They both suffer from a massive amount of misunderstandammit as Sacha lets her doctor side get in the way of really listening to what Kai is saying. Not just about their relationship, but about a possible CSS infiltrator he has seen aboard the Valiant Knox.

Sacha thinks his paranoia is just another facet of his PTSD. It takes her almost too long to realise that Kai is absolutely right – both about the infiltrator and about their relationship.

Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed the hell out of this. However, as I read it I couldn’t decide whether this was truly SFR, or whether it was a contemporary military romance cloaked in SFR trappings. It was an excellent military romance about PTSD sufferers and the beginnings of their recovery, but it felt like it could have been contemporary without too many changes. The SFR setting was good, but it didn’t feel integral to the plot. Which makes this a good book for military romance fans to dip their toes into SFR.

I didn’t get enough of a picture of the CSS to figure out exactly what they stood for. They felt like cardboard fundamentalist fanatics of the crazy cult school. Also, the stealing of spaceships was absolutely counter to what they were supposed to believe, and yet they knew how to not just pilot them, but conduct space battles with them to pretty good effect. Those two things felt mutually exclusive, and I need more on what they believe and how the war got to this point.

Where the SF really shone was in the setting. The Valiant Knox was a city in a space ship. It reminded me more than a bit of the Enterprise D and E in Star Trek: The Next Generation, particularly if Ten Forward was transformed into a whole deck of commercial and leisure outlets. Or maybe a cleaned up version of Battlestar Galactica. Or possibly even a Babylon 5 that moved. Kai’s position and the straightening out thereof fit really well into an Starfleet-type bureaucratic framework.

The centerpiece of the story is the relationship between Kai and Sacha. They both have a metric ton of baggage and it gets in the way both of their relationship and Kai’s recovery. Which it probably should. Kai’s PTSD is something he has to learn to manage but will never get over. He isn’t the man he was before he was captured, so he has to figure out who he is now and learn to deal with that. Sacha never really grieved for either Kai or her late husband. She’s numbed herself with work. Kai’s return forces her to come back to life, and just like with a limb that has fallen asleep, the pins and needles are often painful. She has to decide whether she is Kai’s doctor or his friend and lover. As she bounces between those two emotional states, she almost kills their entire relationship.

While the attack by the CSS forces everyone to get their heads out of their asses and face the real threat, I wish that there hadn’t been an accidental pregnancy involved. It felt a bit too deus ex machina as far as fixing their relationship was concerned. I also question whether a military organization would put Kai back in command so easily, considering the way his PTSD manifests. If they are that desperate for experienced commanders, there is way more wrong with the war effort than we have seen so far. And I want to see it.

So I can’t wait for the next book in this series, Damage Control. I hope that it answers my unanswered questions.

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