Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Uncharted Hearts #1
Published by Bramble Romance on November 14, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Bramble's inaugural debut is equal parts steamy interstellar romance and sci-fi adventure, perfect for fans of Firefly and Ilona Andrews.
She’s got a ramshackle spaceship, a misfit crew, and a big problem with its sexy newest member…
Temperance Reed, banished from the wealthy and dangerous Fifteen Families, just wants to keep her crew together after their feckless captain ran off with the intern. But she’s drowning in debt and revolutionary new engine technology is about to make her beloved ship obsolete.
Enter Arcadio Escajeda. Second child of the terrifying Escajeda Family, he’s the thorn in Temper’s side as they’re sent off on a scouting mission on the backwater desert planet of Herschel 2. They throw sparks every time they meet but Temper’s suspicions of his ulterior motives only serve to fuel the flames between them.
Despite volcanic eruptions, secret cultists, and deadly galactic fighters, the greatest threat on this mission may be to Temper’s heart.
They had me at Firefly. Seriously. I’m still a sucker for another trip on anything like the Serenity, and Calamity, both the ship and the person she’s named for, certainly flies a very similar trajectory out in the black.
But Temperance Reed, infamous as just ‘Temper’ for damn good reasons, isn’t really all that much like Mal Reynolds. Mal seems to have started life close to the bottom in his ‘verse, while Temperance Reed, once upon a time, was at the top of hers.
However, being a soldier imploded his life, being the younger sister of an entitled asshole blew up hers, and they both end up in the same place, as captains of scrappy, ramshackle ships they can barely manage to keep flying, with misfit crews, taking jobs they know they shouldn’t take but can’t afford to turn down, making the best of the bad hand that life has dealt them.
Once upon a time, Temper Reed was the child of one of the ‘Ten’, one of the mega-rich, mega-corp, mercantile families that control their galaxy. But the problem with Temper wasn’t so much her temper as it was her older brother’s. He was the heir, she was the spare, but she was their parents’ favorite.
So once they were gone, his insecurities and megalomania combined to take her family’s development in a direction she knew her parents would never have condoned. Instead of continuing to create cutting-edge tech utilizing AI and language processing, her brother Frederick turned them into a ruthless slice and dice operation that just killed off competition – literally – and then swooped in to buy out the remainders.
They stopped creating. And Temper stopped believing, to the point where she rebelled and he officially disowned and banished her to the unregulated black. There’s more to that story, and it’s all awful. Awfully well told and revealed, but still awful.
Temper and her crew are on borrowed time, and the ship is in hock up to Temper’s eyebrows. So when one of the really big conglomerate families offers them a job with premium pay, Temper knows she has to take it, even though she also knows that they’re concealing a whole lot of the details about what’s really going on, AND that she and her crew are expendable in the first place and they don’t plan to pay them even if they survive.
What she doesn’t expect is a corporate minder in the much too handsome and appealing person of one of the family’s younger sons, Arcadio Escajeda. She’s sure she can ignore her hormones in favor of the common sense that’s telling her that family scions in good standing absolutely do not take up with banished and reviled traitors to their own families.
While Temper may be swimming up the River DeNial, wherever that might be located in her ‘verse, it’s not Arcadio’s perfectly sculpted hotness that throws her good sense over its shoulder and takes it along for the ride – it’s his willingness to truly BE a part of her crew no matter how boring or dangerous the duty might be. Along with just how damn good he is at helping her save them all.
Temper, apparently, is a sucker for competence. While Arcadio turns out to be a sucker for Calamity.
Escape Rating A+: Damn this is fun. Or should I say shiny. Fun, absolutely, utterly fun. I had a terrific time reading this. It’s a wild thrill ride of a science fiction adventure with a (dare I say it?) core of molten lava in multiple senses of all those words.
But a big chunk of the reason I loved it was because of just how well it fits into the science fiction romance tradition – which has never gotten near as much love as it deserves. So I have hopes that Tor Books’ creation of the Bramble imprint, specifically for the purpose of publishing science fiction romance, will do a lot to turn that tide.
The thing about SFR as a genre is that it has to sit on the fence between SF and romance and not get too many splinters up its ass from either side – unless it turns out that the romantic partners are into that sort of thing. Which means that the worldbuilding and plotting has to tell a credible SF story while putting a romance with at least a HFN (that’s Happy For Now), at its heart.
It’s not that it hasn’t been done, because it most definitely has. While Firefly hinted at it – frequently and often – that wasn’t the heart of that story. And the blurb’s mention of Ilona Andrews isn’t quite right as most of her work has been urban fantasy. Compelling with wonderful storytelling and world creation, but not SFR except for her short but marvelous Kinsmen series.
Instead, the comparisons are to Rachel Bach’s Paradox series, Valerie Valdes’ more recent Chilling Effect series, K.B. Wagers’ Indranan War, and even going back to Nina Croft’s Dark Desires series and further back to Lois McMaster Bujold’s long-running Vorkosigan Saga.
I can’t leave that list without mentioning the marvelous – and marvelously prolific – Anna Hackett, who has created some truly terrific universes, terribly rapacious villains, and steam-up-the spaceship windows SFR series for anyone who loves a rollicking good SF adventure with a steamy heart. (If you like the sound of Calamity, or if you loved any of the above mentioned, check out Hackett’s Eon Warriors series and its sequels for some excellent SFR!)
Between its background of mercantile, family-run empires, unhinged heirs and abusive siblings, battered smugglers and their ships along with its story of a star-crossed romance with a change, Calamity is a worthwhile successor to any and all of the above. And if Tor Books’ creation of Bramble makes readers re-evaluate just how great a taste it can be to add a bit of romance to their SF, that’s all to the good.
Because Calamity manages to straddle that fence very, very well. The world is solidly built, the heroes are just the right level of ragtag, Temper is most definitely interestingly flawed but still striving, and the mission is exciting and FUBAR’d at the same time – just as it should be.
The romance between Temper and Arcadio has the deliciousness of being oh-so-right, oh-so-wrong and oh-so-big-a-mistake wrapped up in a dangerous package that hits all the right places, with all the intrusive wink-wink, nod-nod poking from the crew needed to make it both sweet and spectacle at the same time. While the save-the-mission-and-maybe-die-trying ending was just the kind of wild ride that SF readers love.
Which I most certainly did.
Calamity is both the author’s debut novel AND the book that marks the kickoff for Bramble, and it’s a grand book to carry both of those banners. I can’t wait to see what else they have in store for SFR lovers in the months to come. And Temper will be back next June in Fiasco, which, if Calamity is anything to go by, will probably be filled with oodles of fiascos for Temper and her crew while delivering another kickass science fiction adventure wrapped around a fantastic romance!