Review: Weapons Master by Anna Hackett

Review: Weapons Master by Anna HackettWeapons Master (Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #6) by Anna Hackett
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #6
Pages: 214
Published by Anna Hackett on August 9th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

A grumpy cyborg weapons master collides with a feisty mechanic from Earth who turns his ordered existence upside down.

Abducted from her exploration ship and enslaved on a desert world, mechanic Bellamy Walsh has fought for her survival. She’s had to fight for everything in her life, and she doesn’t ever expect things to be easy. After being rescued by the tough, deadly cyborgs of the House of Rone, she is shocked to find herself drawn to a grumpy beast of a cyborg. A genius weapons master who prefers his solitude. A man with scars of his own. A man whose brawny arms are the only thing that chase away Bellamy’s nightmares.

Maxon Shaye likes to be left alone to work. He doesn’t mind his fellow cyborg brethren, but he finds people annoying and chaotic. He’s disconcerted by his growing need to keep Bellamy Walsh safe, and thinks she’s irritating and brash. The woman keeps invading his workshop, getting in his space, and…the even more infuriating thing is that he’s actually starting to like her there. What he doesn’t like is her burning need to throw herself back into danger.

Bellamy is determined to help bring down her captors—the metal-scavenging Edull and their deadly desert battle arena—and that makes her a target. She knows too much and the Edull will stop at nothing to silence her. Maxon will do anything to keep her safe, even if that means threatening the growing bond between them. But in order to destroy the Edull’s arena once and for, Maxon and Bellamy will put everything on the line—their desire, their love, their lives.

My Review:

This is the final book in the House of Rone series, and it’s a doozy of an ending. While the final book in a series is NEVER a good place to start, this is a GREAT place to finish!

The House of Rone, with their allies in the House of Galen, have finally managed to lock down the whereabouts of the illegal arena being operated by the sand-sucking Edull. The Edull don’t literally suck sand, but they do make the Tusken Raiders of Star Wars seem as cuddly in comparison. The Edull are tinkerers and engineers, actually rather like the Jawa. But the Edull have turned their engineering talents into the creation of weapons of mass destruction, and they hone their skills making battle-bots that seem to be as lethal to their riders as they are to any enemies.

As this story opens, the last refugee from the ship Helios has been rescued and brought to the House of Rone for healing, because that’s where most of the Helios survivors have wound up. But the healing Bellamy needs is to fight back and face her former captors – no matter how dangerous it might be.

No matter how much Maxon, the House of Rone’s genius weapons master, wants her to stay safe back in the city. Even if he can’t figure out why he’s so protective of this one, particular, and particularly annoying human.

It’s not so much a beauty and the beast romance as it is a grumpy vs. snarky romance. Maxon wants life to go back to the way things used to be, before all these humans invaded the peace of the House of Rone and brought all of the cyborgs back to life. He doesn’t want to feel all of the emotions his cybernetics have suppressed. Because they hurt.

Bellamy pulls Maxon out of his self-imposed isolation. He manages to both make her feel safe and to understand the restlessness inside her that requires payback and closure – not that he ever got any for the wrongs that led him to the House of Rone.

But their shared interest in and genius for engineering and weapons creation leads to a whole lot of emotions that neither expected to feel again.

And to the deadly, shattering conclusion to this kick-ass series.

Escape Rating A-:Weapons Master is a fitting wrap up to this marvelous epic science fiction romance series. It manages to both close out this particular subset of the Galactic Gladiators series, finish rescuing all of the refugees from the Terran ship Helios, set all of the cyborgs in the House of Rone on their way to their well-earned happy ever afters AND provide just a teasing hint of what might happen next in the space lanes around Carthago.

It’s been a wild ride so far, from the rocky beginning – for the survivors – when that errant wormhole opened up near Jupiter and spit out a whole horde of Thraxian ships intent on taking prisoners back to their home base in far, far away Carthago – as slaves for the Kor Magna Arena. Or for whomever is willing to buy.

The wormhole closed behind them when they reached Carthago space. It’s a one-way trip.

Both the House of Galen, the heroes of the original Galactic Gladiators series, and the House of Rone have spent blood, sweat and tears, as well as time, money and expertise, to rescue every single one of the Terrans who were brought to Carthago. Or at least, they’ve rescued every single one they even have a hint about.

One of the beauties of this series is that it’s all too easy to imagine that in addition to Jupiter Station and the ship Helios, the Thraxians or some other bunch of intergalactic low-lifes might have brought other groups back that the gladiators don’t know about – yet.

I have it on good authority (Thanks, Anna!) that we’ll be back to visit this part of the galaxy sometime next year. And I’m definitely looking forward to that return trip!

Review: House of Rone: Guard by Anna Hackett

Review: House of Rone: Guard by Anna HackettGuard (Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone, #5) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #5
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on April 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

From the dangerous desert sands to the deadly glitz of the city, the lawless desert planet of Carthago is filled with lethal cyborg gladiators risking it all for the women who capture their hearts. GUARD contains two novellas and one short story all set in the Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone series.

Dark Guard: lethal cyborg Zaden will do whatever it takes to guard and protect beautiful, sweet Calla from mysterious attackers.

NOTE: previously released as part of the 2019 Pets in Space Anthology

Abducted from her homeworld, Calla Ryss has spent months in a cell, surviving her captors—the metal-scavenging Edull. Deep in the deserts of the lawless planet of Carthago, she knows that there is no chance of escape. The only thing that gets her through is her friendship with a fellow abductee, a woman stolen from Earth. But everything changes when they are rescued by the bone-chillingly dangerous cyborgs of the House of Rone, and Calla finds herself staring into eyes of metallic silver.

Zaden lives for the House of Rone. His cyborg enhancements help him keep a ruthless hold on his emotions, and loyalty is the only thing he allows himself to feel. And the rare spurt of annoyance at the cyborg hunting cat that refuses to leave him alone. But when sweet, lovely Calla falls into his arms, Zaden starts to experience emotions he’s never felt before…which is dangerous for a cyborg whose enhancements are in place not to increase his lethal abilities, but leash them.

When mysterious attackers attempt to snatch Calla, Zaden vows to be her guard and keep her safe—with some unsolicited help from a certain cyborg cat. But there is more at stake than just Calla’s safety, and as she and Zaden are drawn into an intoxicating storm of emotion, they will risk their hearts, their lives, and their freedom to rescue another innocent captive.

Cyborg Guard: on a dangerous mission into the desert, female cyborg loner Seren must act as bodyguard for champion gladiator Xias—a man who pushes every one of her buttons.

NOTE: this is a BRAND-NEW, never-before-published story

Seren dan Stal was once the pride of the Dan Nonian Warrior Academy, but when her people were wiped out by a virulent virus, she is the lone survivor. Now, her home is the desert world of Carthago, and she works hard to honor her father and her planet by being the best cyborg fighter at the House of Rone. She has no time for fun or frivolity, and that especially includes the always-smiling showman gladiator Xias.

Xias grew up on the streets of Kor Magna and lost the most important fight of all—protecting his sister. He vowed to become a champion for her and to never lose again. He commands the sands of the desert arena, is loved by the spectators, and would die for his imperator, Magnus Rone. But then he finds himself becoming far too fascinated by a prickly, dangerous, and gorgeous female cyborg.

In the desert city of Kaffit, Xias and Seren must work together on a mission for Magnus. Xias pushes Seren to feel, and she inspires his need to protect and pleasure. Together, they uncover a scorching-hot hunger that won’t be denied. Now, they just need to survive long enough to see if that hunger can grow into love.

Includes the short story – House of Rone: Beginnings

Soldier 47 is the most lethal cyborg in the Orionix Military Program. But when a young cyborg, Jaxer, is slated for deactivation, Soldier 47--also known as Magnus Rone--will risk everything he knows to save his friend.

My Review:

This fifth book in the House of Rone spinoff of the Galactic Gladiators series is a collection of short works, much as Rogue and Hunter were for the original series. In fact, VERY much as Hunter was, as both books contain works that were previously published in the utterly marvelous Pets in Space anthologies.

Which means that I’ve read and reviewed one of the three stories in this collection before. Specifically Dark Guard. I loved it, not just for the familiar setting, but particularly for its feline hero – even if the feline, like many of the members of the House of Rone, is a cyborg.

The second entry in Guard is a VERY short story, House of Rone: Beginnings. When I read Beginnings it felt very, make that extremely, familiar. But I’m not certain if that’s because I’ve read it before, or if it’s because the origin story of the House of Rone has been told, although not in this much detail, before. Both Magnus and Jaxer refer to the events that brought them to Kor Magna fairly often, particularly in their respective books, Cyborg and Sentinel.

So Beginnings FEELS familiar, even if I haven’t read it before. And I’m saying that in a good way. Everyone loves a good origin story – unless it gets rebooted too many times too close together. (I’m looking at you, Spiderman). But we all tell ourselves origin stories, stories that we repeat over and over, like the story about how we met a spouse/partner, how we met a best friend, memorable events in family history.

And that’s what Beginnings feels like. It’s the story that creates the House of Rone, even though none of that was envisioned at the start. It’s Magnus discovering that his cyborg implants have not destroyed his heart after all, and that even if he never planned to save himself, he can’t let a friend be killed. And in saving Jaxer, he saves himself and every single soul that the House of Rone rescued after that. It all comes back to this one event, this one story, and it’s lovely to get it in detail.

The other new story, Cyborg Guard, was definitely new. I really liked it because it presents different perspectives on the House of Rone, explores seldom seen variations of the romance patterns in this series, AND pushes the action forward in the quest to rescue the last Earth-human survivor still in captivity with the evil Edull.

The Edull remind me of the Jawa in Star Wars, only taller and more disgusting. Still sandsucking scrap merchants and experimenters. Although I don’t think we’ve ever seen the Jawa incorporate organic parts into their creations – while the Edull certainly do. The Edull are conducting experiments like the Nazis, just without the racial component. The Edull will use anyone in their experiments.

What I enjoyed about the romance in Cyborg Guard is that it was just a bit different from the patterns that have generally been followed in both the Galactic Gladiators and the House of Rone series.

The Cyborg Guard of the title is Seren, one of the female cyborgs who are part of the House of Rone. Unlike many of the cyborgs we’ve met previously, Seren’s suppression of her emotions is training rather than programming. She FEELS emotion, but she’s been taught to rigorously suppress it – kind of like a Vulcan.

(It’s rare to be able to mix Star Wars references and Star Trek references in the same review. Achievement Unlocked!)

Another thing that makes this romance a bit different is that the person Seren is guarding is Xias, one of the non-cyborg members of the House of Rone. Cyborgs are not allowed to compete in the Kor Magna Arena – as they certainly do have an unfair advantage. So the House of Rone has a number of unenhanced members who compete under their banner. Xias is their champion.

While both Seren and Xias are warriors, Seren sees Xias as more than a bit of a showboat, someone who competes because they love the attention – and revel in it. When their mission to retrieve a map of the Edull compound goes completely pear-shaped, Seren is finally able to see that none of her assumptions about Xias were true – except the one about whether or not he’s good in bed. That one was right on the money. And once Seren discovers the man hiding behind the showboat, she’s all in – not just for the sex but eventually for the love that she never believed she was capable – or worthy – of.

Escape Rating A-: All in all, this was a VERY fun entry in this long-running series. It had a whole bunch of elements that I just loved. I’m always a sucker for a good cat story, I love a well-done origin story and I really enjoyed seeing a romance break the established pattern for a series. AND we got to see the other side of the House of Rone, so a real treat all the way around!

Review: Paladin by Anna Hackett

Review: Paladin by Anna HackettPaladin (Galactic Gladiators; House of Rone #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on March 22nd 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

A cyborg drowning in emotions and an abducted Earth woman trying not to feel.

Abducted, enslaved, and constantly worried for her daughter, scientist Dr. Simone Li has had a rough few months. Now that she and her daughter, Grace, have been rescued by the fierce cyborgs of the House of Rone, she’s trying to make a life for them on the desert world of Carthago. But guilt and worry are eating at her…Toren—a once-emotionless cyborg—was injured rescuing them from the dangerous Edull aliens. Now, he’s inundated with emotions and not coping. Drawn to the wounded cyborg, Simone must find a way to help him and still protect her battered heart.

Bred to be a warlord’s personal cyborg, Toren has prided himself on being a cool, precise fighter dedicated to his house and imperator. Now his entire life has been torn apart. He’s broken, useless, and sidelined as an elite House of Rone cyborg. Every minute of every day, he struggles through a deluge of unfamiliar emotions and wants revenge…and only one woman calms the storm.

Desperate to bring down the Edull and rescue another abducted woman, Toren and Simone go undercover in the desert. Despite the dangers around them, these two tortured souls can no longer fight their intense attraction and the pull of fierce, overwhelming emotion. But Toren will soon have a choice to make: risk it all for love or go back to being the emotionless warrior he’s always been.

My Review:

I decided on Paladin today because I knew exactly what I would be getting from this latest entry in Hackett’s swords, sandals and occasionally spaceships series. Considering that yesterday’s book and tomorrow’s book are both a bit out there in terms of storytelling, I really felt like something a bit straightforward here in the middle.

Not that gladiators in space is exactly straightforward, but the storytelling in this series, like all of this author’s marvelous stories, reliably goes from point A to point B to point C – usually meaning SF (or occasionally action-adventure) meets romance, two lonely and/or somewhat scarred people meet (often briefly in the previous book in their series), figure out that they make each other strong in their broken places, get themselves in serious hot water with the big bad of the series, rescue each other and live happy for now with a happy ever after on the horizon when the series wraps up and the big bad is sent to whatever version of hell their beliefs and ours say they have definitely earned and certainly deserve.

And so it is in Paladin, with the added fillip that all the romances in the House of Rone spinoff from the Galactic Gladiators series feature cyborg warriors discovering that they have hearts and emotions after all, no matter how successfully they’ve managed to pretend otherwise until now. And in this particular entry in the series, the female refugee from Earth comes with her very own plus-one in the form of her daughter Grace.

Grace the budding little chemist with a penchant for making things explode. A skill that is bound to come in plenty handy on Carthago.

Grace’s mother Simone has survived the one-way trip from our Solar System as well as captivity and enslavement by the big bad for this series, the evil bot-making Edull. She’s just starting to get her feet under her again, but her involvement with Toren, the cyborg who was wounded while rescuing her, may set her back emotionally as much as she moves forward physically.

The damage that the Edull inflicted on Toren during her rescue has stripped away his primary cyborg weapon and the emotional distance that was part and parcel of his many, many implants. Now that he suddenly has emotions, he’s unable to control them and unfit for being part of the security that keeps the House of Rone and its inhabitants safe from the dark things that thrive in the shadows of Carthago and the Kor Magna Arena.

Dark and deadly things – and people – like the Edull and their bots.

Toren claims to want nothing more than to be stable enough to regain all his implants and the emotional lockdown that goes with them. But Simone can’t seem to stop herself from reaching out to him, no matter how much his need to pull himself away reminds her of the worst of her marriage back on Earth.

But in investigating their current lead to both the Edull and the female Earth engineer that they know is still a captive, Toren and Simone are forced to rely on each other and get past their emotional blocks.

Whether they can save the day – or even each other – forms the beating heart of this entry in this nonstop action/adventure/science fiction romance.

Escape Rating B: As much as I ALWAYS enjoy this author’s work, I’m not having nearly as much fun with the House of Rone as I did with the first series on Carthago, Galactic Gladiators.

And it seems to come down to two things. The first is that as interesting as each of the individual cyborg heroes are in the House of Rone, they are ALL coming from a very similar headspace and lack of heart space. They either haven’t had emotions or have had to suppress their emotions all of their adult lives, only to discover with the advent of the refugees from Earth that, well, the Tin Man has a heart after all. It feels like they need a Scarecrow and a Cowardly Lion to balance things out. Or someone coming from a different place.

Not that the women they fall for don’t show plenty of variety, because they certainly do. But the men, not so much.

The other thing that makes this series less compelling for me are the villains. As a reader, I don’t know why the Edull do what they do or are what they are. In the author’s Hell Squad series, I may hate the invading Gizzida but I know enough about their motivations to know that they make sense from their perspective. They are evil from our perspective, but not from their own.

The Edull seem to be a race of mad scientists, or at least mad engineers, who are evil for evil’s sake. There’s a piece missing and it makes them less comprehendible. I need to see that from their own point of view they are more than just BWAHAHA evil – and I’m not there yet.

Maybe in the next book in the series, later this year.

Review: Centurion by Anna Hackett

Review: Centurion by Anna HackettCenturion (Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #3
Published by Anna Hackett on October 20th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

Rescued from her alien captors, the only person who makes her feel safe is a cold, emotionless cyborg.

Abducted from her exploration ship, paramedic Sage McAlister has spent months locked in cells and labs belonging to the Edull. Rescued by the cool, powerful cyborgs of the House of Rone, she finds herself among fellow human survivors on the desert world of Carthago. But despite being free, Sage feels cold inside and is struggling to cope. The only person she feels safe with—who she doesn’t feel the need to pretend with—is a deadly cyborg who feels nothing.

Forced into a military cyborg program as a teen, all Acton Vonn remembers of his past are violent missions and the cybernetic enhancements forced on him before he broke free. His emotions have been dampened to nothing for decades and he’s fine with that. It makes him an efficient member of the House of Rone. Yet the more time he spends with the copper-haired woman he helped rescue from the Edull, the more unfamiliar, strange, and perplexing things he starts to feel.

When a tip reveals that more humans are being held captive at a mysterious desert lake, Sage will stop at nothing to help rescue her crewmates. As she is drawn closer to Acton, she worries about risking her heart. Being with Sage breaks down barriers inside Acton and he struggles with the emotions he doesn’t want to feel. But deep in Carthago’s dangerous deserts, with the Edull hunting them, Sage and Acton will have to risk it all: their lives, their hearts, their souls.

My Review:

I read Centurion in bits and pieces, which was kind of surprising for a book that checks in at just under 250 pages and is written by an author I love in a series that I have enjoyed very much.

Nevertheless, I picked it up and liked what I read but just didn’t feel compelled to finish. But I had a relatively short airplane ride and no internet and there you go, book done.

Which leads me to write about why I didn’t feel compelled, why I finished it anyway, what I liked and what didn’t quite grab me.

So here we are.

The House of Rone series is a sequel series to the author’s Galactic Gladiators series, which I loved and didn’t really want to see end. So I was really glad when it didn’t.

The premise for the whole thing is that a temporary wormhole opened up between our solar system, specifically near Jupiter Station which sets this story in a future that is not-too-distant, and the very far distant indeed other end of the galaxy in the vicinity of a planet called Carthago.

(Carthago is a play on Carthage, and all resemblances to anything vaguely reminiscent of what we think of as the “blood and sandals” school of Greco-Roman history definitely apply. Only with lots of futuristic tech built in.)

And, in true SF fashion, that wormhole was exploited by the scum of this and every other galaxy – slave traders. Said scum scoop up everyone they can before the wormhole closes. So far, we know they grabbed everyone they could from both Jupiter Station and at least one ship in the area before they hightailed it back home.

The stories in both the Galactic Gladiators series and the House of Rone spin-off revolve around the rescue, one by one, of all of the Terran refugees, who then manage to make new lives for themselves by falling in love, usually with one of the gladiators from the Kor Magna Arena – hence the original series title.

While patterns did emerge during the first series, there were plenty of variations on the theme. Including one where the refugee was male and the gladiator was female – and there need to be a few more like that. The refugees all had, found or adopted a variety of professions upon their recovery. And not all of the locals were completely human, nor were all of the locals gladiators – although one was a cyborg, the Imperator of the House of Rone. They all came into the story with slightly different origin stories and original traumas.

So there was an overall pattern but plenty of variation within that pattern.

The difference so far within the House of Rone series is that all of those local heroes (and so far it’s all been heroes) are all cyborgs – because that is what the House of Rone specializes in. And so far, all of them are coming from a very similar headspace – that they are too much machine to make enough emotional connections to fall in love – and that most of them were, until the advent of those Terran refugees, happy (well, content, anyway, because these guys didn’t actually DO happy) to remain that way.

The women have come from different emotional places. Sage, the heroine of Centurion, was interesting because before and during her captivity she projected an air of total optimism. She was everyone’s ray of sunshine. Now that she’s free, she feels frozen. She’s having problems accessing her own emotions, but feels the need to fake it for the other women from Earth. She initially becomes friends with the cyborg Acton because he doesn’t show or seemingly have emotion and she doesn’t have to pretend for him.

The way that Sage comes back to life, and back to herself, felt genuine, where Acton’s emotional flowering felt contrived and much too quick.

To put it another way, I liked her but didn’t warm up to him – even as he warmed up.

I’m also having a more difficult time with the villains of this series, the Edull, than I did with the Thraxian slavers – and doesn’t THAT sound wrong.

But the Thraxians, as awful as they were, were just mercenaries. I don’t agree with their actions, but their motivation is pretty simple. They’re in it for the money. As long as they have buyers, they’ll be selling.

On my other hand – probably a cyborg one at that – the Edull don’t make a lot of sense, or at least not yet.

They are tinkers. They take scrap metal and parts and (rather ingeniously) turn them into robots. At first they were just using slaves, including the human slaves, to perform backbreaking labor. Which was awful and terrible enough. Now they’re using the slaves for parts for the robots. They’ve slipped from being horrible to being extra-super-crazy evil. There is a mercenary element to this, of course. They do sell the robots. But it seems like there’s more and I’m not getting it.

And it may just be that we haven’t had a chance to see into their heads yet – as disgusting as that’s likely to be. But for a villain – particularly an entire villainous race – the reader needs to understand why they’re villainous – not just that they ARE villainous. In the author’s Hell Squad series we’re not supposed to like the evil Gizzida, but we do KNOW why they do what they do. In its way, it makes them even more frightening.

I’m just not there yet for the Edull. They feel like they are getting more evil for evil’s sake, and it’s not enough.

Escape Rating B: As I said, I liked Sage a lot. I’m still enjoying the setting and setup of this series, and will definitely continue to follow it. But it’s starting to need something more for me to really love it. Hopefully next time we’re back on Carthago I’ll get some of my answers.

Review: Defender by Anna Hackett

Review: Defender by Anna HackettDefender (Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #2
Pages: 211
Published by Anna Hackett on August 18, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

Rescued from alien slavers, the only place she feels safe is in the brawny arms of a big, gruff cyborg.

Astrophysicist Dr. Jayna Lennox’s life imploded the day her ship was attacked by aliens. Through months of captivity, she’s survived by shutting down and not feeling. Then she’s freed by the House of Rone cyborgs and finds herself in the arms of huge, tough Mace. Struggling to heal, Mace is the only thing that makes her feel safe. The only person who makes her feel like she isn’t broken. But there are more of her crew members imprisoned in Carthago’s desert, and Jayna will have to delve into her darkest memories to help save them.

Born to fight and bred for rage, Mace barely survived his gang-ridden homeworld. Thanks to Imperator Magnus Rone, he’s found a place at the House of Rone. Unlike the other cyborgs, he feels, but only anger and annoyance. When a small, wounded human woman works her way under his skin, Mace finds himself feeling things he’s never felt before…along with a powerful need to keep her safe.

Jayna vows to help find her fellow humans, even if it means revisiting her nightmares and being part of a dangerous mission into the desert. But as the passion between her and Mace explodes, she finds herself with two battles on her hands: the battle to free the humans from their captors, and the war to win Mace’s scarred heart.

My Review:

When it seemed like the Galactic Gladiators series was coming to an end, back with Imperator, I said that this was a series that could potentially go on forever. By the end of Imperator, all of the human refugees that were kidnapped through the temporary wormhole had been rescued from the Thraxian slavers, and the slavers, or at least that group of them, had been broken.

But that didn’t mean that there couldn’t have been other groups of humans kidnapped from Jupiter Station or the surrounding space that had also been kidnapped, whether by the Thraxians or by some other group of evil, space-vacuum-sucking scum.

And so it proves with the House of Rone spinoff of the Galactic Gladiators series, beginning with Sentinel and now followed by Defender.

Cyborg romance is one of the more interesting, and potentially challenging, spinoffs of science fiction romance. The House of Rone is a gladiatorial house on Kor Magna, founded by the cyborgs that their imperator, Magnus, rescued from the experimental program that produced him and his inner circle of trusted operators.

(BTW, Magnus found his own HEA in Cyborg with one of those rescued from Jupiter Station.)

One of those challenges when it comes to cyborg romance is in the way that cyborgs can embody the tough, supposedly unfeeling alpha male stereotype – and the ways that they subvert that stereotype – and their own programming.

The cyborgs produced by the program that Magnus and his friends Jaxon (Sentinel), Acton and this story’s own hero, Mace, escaped were programmed not to have emotions. In fact, one of the factors that forced them to escape was that their programming was either failing or imperfect – and that they felt at least some emotions in spite of it – to varying degrees. With Jaxon (hero of Sentinel) having the most and Acton (clearly intended as the hero of the next book in the series) having the least.

Mace seems to fall in the middle of that emotional spectrum, which seems fitting as his cyborg enhancements, just like his emotions, are hidden on the inside.

He doesn’t expect to feel anything for Jayna, the human woman he helped to rescue from the Edull. (The Edull seem like much, much nastier and disgusting cousins of the Jawa traders in the first Star Wars movie – the ones who captured C3PO and R2-D2 at the beginning of the film.)

But of course she just gets under his skin. And very much vice versa.

As is the case with many of the books in both the House of Rone and the Galactic Gladiators series that spawned it, these two people with scars on both the outside and the inside discover that they make each other strong in their broken places.

And that even a cyborg who isn’t supposed to feel anything at all is capable of falling in love – even if it takes someone from halfway across the galaxy to help him finally figure it out.

Escape Rating B+: As is often the case with this author’s series, there is both an individual romance in this short novel and progress on an overarching story for the series.

In Defender, the romance is between Mace and Jayna, a cyborg defender – hence the title – and the woman he comes to defend – and love.

The story is both Jayna’s journey of healing after being captured, enslaved and experimented upon, and Mace’s journey to become more than just a battle-scarred warrior with some serious anger-management issues.

That they have to grope towards a relationship before they get to seriously groping each other is part of the journey – and part of the fun.

At the same time, Defender also links to the previous books in the combined series and provides hints of where the story goes from here. While it isn’t necessary to read the whole series to enjoy this entry in it, reading a couple, particularly Gladiator (the original kickoff) and Cyborg (Magnus Rone’s own story) should provide enough background to get the worldbuilding. But the series as a whole is a whole lot of fun, so why wouldn’t you read the whole thing?

The overarching story for the House of Rone revolves around the search for survivors from the ship Helios, the supply ship that was operating near Jupiter Station when the wormhole opened. That search has led the allied forces of the House of Galen and the House of Rone to the Edull, a race of sand-sucking tinkers, engineers and scientists who usually spend their time salvaging mechanical scrap. They do, however, keep slaves, which is how they seem to have acquired the Helios survivors. The Edull seem to find the humans interesting – to the point of buying them to experiment on. Jayna was rescued, but there are more humans hidden in the Edull’s secret capital city – and it’s the mission of this series to find that city and rescue all of them.

I can’t wait to see them finally succeed!

Review: Sentinel by Anna Hackett

Review: Sentinel by Anna HackettSentinel (Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House Of Rone #1
Pages: 209
Published by Anna Hackett on July 21st 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

Fighting for love, loyalty, and freedom on the galaxy’s lawless outer rim…

When Quinn Bennett’s exploration ship is attacked, the security chief finds herself abducted by alien slavers. Unable to save her crew, she is taken across the galaxy and sold to a desert scavenger on the lawless planet of Carthago. Driven by her guilt and failure, she’ll do anything to escape and save the other abductees from her ship. Chained and forced into servitude, she’s waiting for her chance to strike, when across a dusty trading post, she comes face to face with a big, cyborg gladiator.

Jaxer Rone’s loyalty is to his imperator—the man who saved him from a lethal cyborg military program. Jax works tirelessly for his gladiatorial house and would die for his fellow cyborgs. His emotional dampeners have never functioned well, but while he feels some emotion, he never lets it get in the way of his duty. Right now, his mission is to find the stolen humans from Earth. But when he rescues the fierce, relentless Quinn, he starts feeling a rush of emotion he’s never experienced before.

Quinn and Jax join forces to track down the aliens holding the other Earth women captive. Side by side, they venture into the desert and uncover a desire hotter than the desert suns. But the aliens who captured Quinn want her back. In order to protect Quinn, will Jax embrace his newfound feelings or shut them off to keep her safe?

My Review:

In my review of Cyborg, one of the last books in the Galactic Gladiators series – and the direct precursor to Sentinel – I opined that the series could continue indefinitely without feeling thing and stretched the way that the author’s Hell Squad series has begun to feel, at least for this reader.

And here we have that continuation, and it’s every bit as much fun as the series from which it sprang.

The premise of the Galactic Gladiators series was that a temporary wormhole opened up between far, far distant Carthago and Jupiter Station in our own solar system. The wormhole was exploited by the slave-trading Thraxians, who kidnapped a bunch of humans from Jupiter Station and dragged them back to Carthago before the wormhole closed.

By the end of the final book in the series, Imperator, all of the humans who had been rescued from the Station had found their HEA with the gladiators of the House of Galen and their allies. One of said allies is Magnus Rone, cyborg and Imperator of his own gladiatorial house.

In Alien Hunter, part of the novella duo Hunter that bridges between the Galactic Gladiators series and the new House of Rone series, our friends discover that Jupiter Station was not the only place in our solar system that the Thraxians raided. At least one ship on it way to Jupiter from Earth was also picked up on that raid – so there’s a whole new batch of Earth humans to find and rescue.

A journey that begins in Sentinel, the first book of the House of Rone.

The House of Rone, in general, offers a deeper dive into the science fictional world that the author has created. Galen’s house is primarily a gladiatorial house. That’s how they make their money, and that’s how they support all of the members of the house and its operations, including the underground mission of not just rescuing Earthan refugees, but of buying and freeing as many people as possible who have been enslaved in the less-savory gladiatorial houses.

All of the gladiators in Galen’s house are free. They fight willingly – and very successfully – in the Kor Magna Arena.

The House of Rone has a more multifaceted operation. Magnus Rone and his fellow cyborgs are not allowed to fight in the arena. They have an extremely unfair advantage because of their cybernetic enhancements. Which does not mean that the House of Rone doesn’t compete in the arena. Magnus has plenty of unenhanced but skillful and effective fighters who compete under his House’s banner.

He has also funded a highly sought after medical service that sells cybernetic limbs to the wealthy and provides replacement limbs free of charge to those who need them but can’t afford them. While the research into cybernetics is self-serving in that he and his inner circle all require those services themselves, using that same research to help others is very much not.

Magnus began his house by rescuing his fellow cyborgs, starting with Jaxer, the hero of Sentinel. Most of the cyborgs in the House of Rone have faulty programming – much like Magnus himself. They were supposed to be programmed not to feel, but underneath – or in one case outside of – the enhancements they are men and not machines.

When the faults in Jaxer’s programming became so obvious that he was about to be terminated, Magnus rescued them both and brought them to Kor Magna. All of the stories in the House of Rone series look like they will be about the cyborgs of Magnus’ inner circle discovering just how many messy emotions are hiding under their usually impassive exteriors.

Jax is the first. His programming has always been the flakiest, so he has both hero-worshipped his rescuer Magnus and feels duty-bound to help shoulder some of his rescuer’s burdens now that Magnus has found his own surprising HEA. Magnus promised Galen that he would continue the search and rescue of the Earthan refugees and Jax intends to take over as much of that effort as he possibly can.

And that’s what sends him into the path of Quinn Bennett, the former ship’s security chief and now slave on Carthago. In spite of her terrible circumstances, Quinn is beaten but not bowed. Her spirit is still alive and fighting, and when she sees the cyborgs, she does her best to help them, in spite of the beating that follows.

Jax sees her – and now he has a specific woman to rescue – not just the duty of rescuing faceless people he’s never met. Not that he won’t, and not that they don’t deserve rescue. But in spite of everything he tells himself, over and over, Jax wants to rescue Quinn for himself.

Even if he doesn’t think he deserves her. Especially because he doesn’t think he deserves her. But who is he to tell Quinn what she needs, wants or deserves?

Escape Rating B+: I realize that I’ve written a lot about the setup of this story. Consider that a sign that in spite of Sentinel being the first book of a new series, the majority of the worldbuilding for this series is in the previous series. In other words, Sentinel is probably not the best place to start. I’m not sure you’d have to read the entire Galactic Gladiators series to get into Sentinel, but at least the first one or two plus Cyborg and the novella Alien Hunter in Hunter.

Why not just begin at the beginning at binge? This series is a whole lot of fun from beginning to current end – and I expect the fun to continue in future entries.

One of the things that I continue to love about this series is that in spite of so many strikes against them, the refugees from Earth are not damsels in distress. They don’t need “rescue” in the traditional sense, they just need a little help rescuing themselves. And they are active participants in everything that happens from that initial intervention to adapting to their new world to finding their HEA and claiming it.

They are all kickass, but they are not all kickass in the same way. Some have been warriors, but they’ve also been engineers and computer geeks and doctors and pretty much everything else. There’s no one way to be a heroine in this series (or in any of this author’s work)

However, one thing about the Galactic Gladiators series as a whole, including the House of Rone spinoff, that’s starting to stretch my willing suspension of disbelief just a tiny bit – although certainly not enough to keep me from continuing to enjoy the series.

Jupiter Station, and any ships en route to or from it, would presumably have had crews consisting of all genders. But all of the books in the series, with the notable exception of Champion, have featured an Earthan female and a male from somewhere in the wider universe. Only in Champion is that reversed.

If there were extremely few men on Jupiter Station and the ships servicing it – why? If the Thraxians chose to only capture females – why? I find the second possibility more likely than the first, but there must be a reason. Especially since I’d love to see one of the books in this series feature a female warrior and a male who is not. There are certainly plenty of female gladiators to make this a possible scenario.

Consider the above comment my the first item on my “wish list” for this series. Because I do love it and want to see it go more places and do more things. It’s a big galaxy!

The House of Rone continues in Defender, coming in August. Oooh!, something for me to look forward to, to bring me out of my post-WorldCon blahs!