Review: Rogue by Anna Hackett

Review: Rogue by Anna HackettRogue (Galactic Gladiators #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #8
Pages: 202
Published by Anna Hackett on November 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing she expects is to be claimed by a handsome alien rogue. Rogue contains two action-packed novellas in the Galactic Gladiators series.

Information Rogue: arrogant information merchant Zhim doesn’t know what hits him when he collides with feisty human hacker Ryan.

Rescued by the humans and gladiators from the House of Galen, Ryan Nagano is working hard to piece her life back together. Her priorities are conquering her anxiety, recovering from her captivity, and using her exceptional computer skills to help the House of Galen decrypt alien data that could reveal the location of other abducted humans. That’s all she’s focused on. But when she needs help, she finds herself having to work with arrogant genius Zhim…and discovers that the two of them redefine the word explosive.

Zhim thrives on the need to uncover information and ensure his wealthy, carefully constructed life is exactly as he wants it. Then one infuriating menace of a woman blasts into his life. Ryan matches him skill for skill, drives him crazy, and worms her way under his skin. But forced to take her deep into Kor Magma’s shadowy hacker underworld, Zhim soon learns exactly what he’s willing to risk to keep Ryan safe.

Desert Rogue: prickly, independent human Neve doesn’t want or need any help…but a certain cocky desert rogue isn’t taking no for an answer.

Neve Haynes survived her abduction through grit and determination. She’s always made her own way through life, depends on no one, and is determined to achieve her own personal mission. So as she sneaks out of the House of Galen, the last thing she needs is help in the form of a tawny-haired, lean-hipped caravan master with more confidence and swagger than any man she’s met before.

Corsair is a man of the desert and leader of the Corsair Caravan. He listens to his gut and something about Neve draws him in. He can’t let her go off and get herself killed, but she’s the most skittish, strongest woman he’s ever met. As they trek deep into the desert on a dangerous mission to find a map to an infamous desert arena, they will fight side by side and be forced to depend only on each other to survive. And in Carthago’s desert sands, they will uncover a desire that burns hotter than the desert sun

My Review:

Unlike the rest of the Galactic Gladiators series, Rogue consists of two novelettes instead of a single novella. The stories center around a bit of a theme, in that both of the heroes are rogues – as much anti-hero as they are hero, and more in the mold of a rogue-type character in a video game than the gladiators themselves, who are straight-up tanks. Not just tanks, but definitely tanks, big and strong and hard fighters who can take a lot of punishment – even the female gladiators.

But worlds don’t consist entirely of straightforward fighters, not even worlds whose economy is based on old-style gladiatorial contests. Fortunately for the gladiators, these interstellar blood and sand games have lots of very high-tech healing operating in the background.

But the heroes of Rogue are cut from another cloth entirely. The first story features the information merchant and data-hacker Zhim, our second hero is Corsair, leader of the desert caravan that assisted in the rescue of the women re-captured from House Galen by the Srinar.

Zhim, the hero of Information Rogue, has been part of the series almost from its beginning. As Galen discovered that there were more victims from Earth than he first believed, he reached out to Zhim to help him discover who they were, where they were hidden and how best to rescue them. As the series has progressed, Zhim’s services have been in increasing demand, hunting not just for any remaining Earth captives but also for any other people or creatures who have been enslaved and need rescue.

He’s also figured out a way – a very expensive way – for the Earth refugees to “call home” – because they are stuck on the far side of a collapsed wormhole and can’t go home again. He’s been a lifeline in so many ways, and now it’s his turn to find the woman he belongs to, and very much vice versa.

While many of the stories in this series have featured opposites attract romances, Zhim and Ryan have much more in common than they have differences. Both are their own galaxy’s variety of nerds, hackers and info-junkies who lust after the latest hardware almost as much as they discover they lust after each other.

But it takes a lot for two people who both have serious trust issues to give anyone else the cipher key to their hearts.

In Desert Rogue it is Corsair’s turn to find his HEA. Corsair first appeared out of the desert sands at least as early as Champion, if not before. It is his caravan that Galen trusts to help rescue the women who were kidnapped a second time while under his protection. And Corsair keeps coming back to help as the gladiators find themselves returning to the desert over and over to rescue more slaves and break up more underground fight rings.

Neve Haynes is a fascinating choice for Corsair. She’s a very different character from many in the series, because she has a hidden agenda, hiding under yet another hidden agenda, and its hidden agendas pretty much all the way down. She was on the Jupiter Station as a corporate spy, and she’s used to hiding herself in plain sight and operating completely alone.

Now that she’s stuck on Kor Magna, her agenda has shifted. She needs to rescue her sister, who is still in the hands of the slavers. But as much experience as Neve has in operations under all types of deadly conditions, there are no deserts in space. Or in the corporate headquarters she used to prowl. She may want to rescue Ever all on her own, but she needs Corsair’s help to navigate the deadly landscape that is second nature to him.

It takes her a long time to realize that she just needs Corsair, and it takes him every bit as long to convince her of what has become, for him, an unalterable fact.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed both of these stories, but I wish that they had both been a bit longer. Not that I don’t always wish that Anna Hackett’s stories were a bit longer, but that seemed particularly true in this case.

If these were not part of an already well-established series, there wouldn’t be nearly enough setup to make the stories work. As it is, the romances still felt a bit rushed, especially in Desert Rogue. While Zhim and Corsair have both been around for awhile, and Ryan and Zhim have been teasing each other over their version of the interwebs for a bit, Neve was barely introduced in the previous books, and her backstory is so different from everyone else’s that I really wanted to know more of what made her tick and especially about her relationship with her sister, particularly as Ever is set up to be the heroine of one of the future stories in this series.

But I’m always happy to receive a treat from Anna Hackett, and Rogue was no exception. It made for a great Thanksgiving read!

Review: Beast by Anna Hackett

Review: Beast by Anna HackettBeast (Galactic Gladiators #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #7
Pages: 160
Published by Anna Hackett on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers and taken to a lawless desert world, the last thing starship pilot Mia expects is to find herself in the protective, brawny arms of a wild, blue-skinned alien.

Rescued by gladiators on the alien world of Carthago, Mia is working to find other abducted humans who are still lost. But someone else also needs her help—the untamed alien who’s saved her twice. Rescued from vicious fight rings he’s fought in since he was a child, Vek is prone to losing control in aggressive fits of rage…and Mia discovers that she is the only who can calm him. As she finds herself drawn to the man beneath the beast, she knows that with his enhanced senses, Vek can help her find her friends.

For years, all Vek’ker has known is death, darkness, and killing. Despite his newfound freedom, he is struggling to control his rages and withdrawal from the drugs his captors used on him. Only one scent soothes him, one voice calms him, and one woman is his light in the dark. Vek will do anything to protect Mia and make her happy…including vowing to find her friends.

With the gladiators from the House of Galen, Vek and Mia follow mysterious clues into a dangerous part of the desert on the trail of the missing humans. They are drawn closer together but as they enter the deadly Illusion Mountains, they have no idea of the dangers lying in wait for them, or how far they will both be pushed to their limits in order to survive.

My Review:

Whenever I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, I can always trust one of Anna Hackett’s action-packed science fiction romances to sweep me away from whatever is going wrong. (She even got me through election night, and that’s seriously saying something!)

So I spent part of one day with a big, blue Beast and the woman who has captured his heart – every bit as much as he’s captured hers.

We met Vek’ker and Mia earlier in the Galactic Gladiators series. Vek’ker and Mia bonded at least somewhat when they were both trapped in the horrific Srinar fight rings. Even high on aggressive fight drugs, Vek protected Mia as best as he could. Once they were rescued by the House of Galen, she helped him begin to adjust. When she and two of her friends were recaptured in Champion and Mia was rescued in Barbarian, it was Vek’s abilities that helped bring Mia back “home”.

But there are still two human women missing, and there have been rumors of a third who doesn’t seem to have been part of the original group captured by the intergalactic slavers. They have a lead, but it’s a slim one. The women have been taken to the Illusion Mountains, and that illusion is no joke.

People see things, people lose things and people lose themselves, way out there where no one dares to go. But they must, if they are to rescue Ryan and Dayna.

And get their revenge on the people who have raided the House of Galen yet again, and killed more of its gladiators in their desire to keep the twisted, underground fight rings running – and to keep the profits from those rings flowing.

It’s a dangerous trek across deserts filled with death borers (think sandworms on steroids with a taste for live meat) into the elusive Illusion Mountains.

And once there, a deadly race to elude the slave traders and rescue their friends. A race that is being streamed live to a galaxy of sick “sports” enthusiasts, and nearly costs Vek and Mia everything they have just barely found.

Escape Rating B+: I love this series. It’s a fascinating set up, and each of the stories exposes more of this side of the galaxy in general and the dangers of the planet Carthago in particular, while still telling a rollicking adventure tale and a sexy romance.

Each of the human women (and one man) who have found themselves on this distant world after the horrors of their capture also reaches for a different kind of future and a different kind of partner. Mia’s talent is in her voice, music that quite literally seems to have charms that soothe the savage beast – and the savage plant as well.

Vek’ker, on the other hand, is about as alien as it gets. The rest of the gladiators, with the exception of Thorin, seem to be more-or-less human. They are larger, and some have some special talents, but one gets the impression that they don’t look much different than the average NFL player in his prime. Vek, on the other hand, is blue. Not sad, although that too, but blue like sky, or like the cover picture.

He’s also just about as lost as Mia is. Mia, at least, knows who she is and where she’s from. She may not be able to get back there, but her identity is solid. Vek’ker was captured by slave traders so young that he has no memories of his home planet. He doesn’t even remember where he’s from.

Vek and Mia save each other, over and over again. At different times and in different ways, but she saves him just as often as he saves her.

And while she may have the security of knowing who she is and where she came from, she’s always felt just a bit inadequate. Her family back home consisted of a bunch of hard-charging, aggressive, ambitious, over-achievers. Mia always felt like she didn’t fit. With Vek she’s finally part of a whole that loves her, needs her and wants her exactly as she is.

She feels the same about him. It’s not his exotic nature that draws her, it’s his essential sweetness and protective nature, hidden under a dangerous persona. They work together, even though on the surface they shouldn’t.

In addition to the basic story, where one romance arrives at its HEA and one more human woman is rescued from something terrible, one final element of each story in this series is that the newly rescued human and one of her rescuers strike some serious sparks from each other in one way or another.

I think that by the end of Beast we saw the opening moves of not one but possibly three future romances. And I can’t wait!

Review: Barbarian by Anna Hackett

Review: Barbarian by Anna HackettBarbarian (Galactic Gladiators #6) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #6
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Abducted by alien slavers, experimented on, and left blind, the last thing doctor Winter Ashworth needs is a big barbarian gladiator in her life, especially an annoying one who thinks she's small and weak.

Rescued by gladiators on the desert world of Carthago, Winter is doggedly working to embrace her new life. But two of her friends are still missing and she'll do anything to help get them back...even if she has to work alongside Nero Krahn: hunter, barbarian, gladiator. The scowly, brooding man is too big, has too many muscles, and pushes all her buttons.

Nero is the House of Galen's best hunter and tracker. Raised on a barbarian world, where strength and might are prized, he was bred to hunt and fight. Now the arena is his home and his loyalty is to his imperator. He knows he can use his skills to find the two lost women, even if that means protecting a small blind woman who takes every chance to misjudge his words and lash him with her sharp tongue.

But as they follow a dangerous trail to save their friends, a new enemy emerges--one who wants Winter. The pair find themselves reluctantly attracted to each other, uncovering a scorching desire that shocks them both. As Nero fights to protect Winter, the barbarian gladiator will discover the true meaning of strength from the small Earth woman he wants to claim as his.

My Review:

I always have a good time with Anna Hackett’s series, and Barbarian was no exception. This was a perfect airplane book. The plane may have been flying over the American Heartland, but I was exploring the deserts of Kor Magna and loving every minute of it.

The Galactic Gladiators series is a kind of sun and sandals meet spaceships series. Kor Magna is basically Vegas on steroids, and the gladiatorial fights are just a part of the entertainment on offer. All of the galaxy’s sins, temptations and degradations seem to be available on Kor Magna – for a price.

But it isn’t all fun and games. Kor Magna may be where the rich come to play, but it has a seamy side. Someone has to be providing all the fun, all that tempting sin, and not all of the providers are willing.

There’s an unfortunately thriving slave trade that feeds the fleshpots of Kor Magna, and an ever expanding number of humans have found themselves under its thumb. Slavers exploited a temporary wormhole from Kor Magna to Jupiter, and kidnapped or killed an entire space station.

But that wormhole was a temporary fluke. Our solar system is too far away to get to, over 600 years away at the fastest sublight speeds currently available. So the humans that were captured are exotic and rare, therefore valuable in the wrong hands. And none of them can get home.

Over the course of the series, the captive humans have been rescued, one by one, by gladiators from the successful and honorable House of Galen. Galen and his gladiators have made it their mission to rescue slaves, especially those who just aren’t suited for the life of a gladiator.

And one by one, as each human is rescued, another gladiator falls into the arms of love. At this point, the remaining unmated gladiators are getting a bit sick of all the mushy stuff, and worried about when it will be their turn to fall. (This reader is really looking forward to Galen’s fall, but that’s probably a couple of books away at least. Damn)

The story in Barbarian is the romance between blind Winter and warrior Nero. Winter is a doctor who was blinded in an experiment after she was captured by the slavers. She has a lot of fears and insecurities about how she will make a life and a place for herself now that she is blind. A surgeon can’t operate if they can’t see what they are operating on.

The warrior Nero pushes all of Winter’s buttons, both the good ones and the insecure ones. A warrior from a savage planet, Nero was taught to believe that the weak were a drain on resources, and that protecting them only drains the tribe. He’s learned better in the House of Galen, but Winter’s presence makes him even more tongue-tied, and more blunt, than usual. And she takes all of his comments and runs with them, generally in the wrong direction.

There is more than one kind of strength, and more than one version of bravery. As the gladiators trek out into the harsh desert to rescue more humans from extremely inhumane conditions, Winter and Nero finally figure out that all of their arguments mask a whole lot of deeper emotions that neither of them is ready to deal with.

But life on Kor Magna, even under the best of circumstances (something the gladiators never seem to find) is too harsh to put off loving the person who makes your heart sing.

Escape Rating B+: I really liked Nero and Winter. In the end, they made a great team. And it was good to see Winter take her new life by the horns, in spite of her handicap. She’s scared, she’s uncertain, but she never retreats and she never gives up.

Not even when an evil robot is dragging her to its leader.

That leader is what keeps this book, for me at least, from rising into the A grades.

The slave traders, as awful as they are, make a bad kind of sense. They’re in it for the money. It’s a disgusting motive, and their tactics are brutal, but we understand why they do what they do, even as we abhor it.

The villain of this piece, the Catalyst, is just plain nuckin’ futz. Crazy as a loon. A few parsecs short of a quadrant. You get the picture. He’s doing what he’s doing just because he can, and because he believes he’s so intelligent that he’s entitled, and that no one will be able to stop him. He was terrible and awful and dangerous, but he just didn’t make enough sense. At least not for me.

The gladiators, on the other hand, are terrific. And they are all very much individuals, just as are the humans they fall for. So far, it’s been one male human and five females, but there is nothing in the structure of the series that says that couldn’t change. One of the things that I like about the series is that each of the humans, upon recognizing that they literally can’t go home again, buckles down and finds work and hope and purpose as well as love. And the work varies – only two so far have become gladiators. In addition to Winter finding a way to continue as a healer, one has become an engineer, another an inventor, and one has taken on the sometimes thankless task of business manager for the House of Galen.

One thing that makes this series so much fun is that the pattern can be stretched indefinitely without feeling too stretched. The Hell Squad series has hit that point for me, even though I still enjoy the individual entries in it. And you don’t have to read the entire series to get in on the action (but probably the first one (Gladiator) just to introduce the scene, setting and players) But the Galactic Gladiators only has to stop when the plausible number of captives from the Jupiter station has been reached, and that’s a LONG way off.

Thank goodness!

Review: Champion by Anna Hackett

Review: Champion by Anna HackettChampion (Galactic Gladiators #5) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #5
Pages: 175
Published by Anna Hackett on March 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

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

Space marine Blaine Strong enjoyed being a composed, controlled member of space station security…until he was abducted by alien slavers. Forced into underground fight rings and pumped full of drugs, he’s now seething with anger and out for revenge.

Rescued by gladiators and fellow humans on the desert world of Carthago, Blaine is fighting to be the man he once was. But when the House of Galen is attacked, he must focus on joining the gladiators to fight back. That means teaming up with a tough, competitive female gladiator who not only challenges him at every turn, awakens a fierce desire he’s never felt before, but a woman who can sense the churning emotions inside him.

Gladiator Saff Essikani is the best net fighter in the Kor Magna Arena. Raised from young to fight, she bows to no man and uses her empathic abilities to win at whatever cost. With her House targeted and people under their care threatened, she’ll stop at nothing to find those responsible. But then she finds herself face to face with a big, tortured man from Earth who affects her like no man before. As Saff and Blaine head into the desert to uncover a conspiracy, their incendiary desire flares hotter than the desert suns. But as Blaine’s angry emotions rage out of control, Saff knows that unless he learns to embrace the man he is now, he has no chance of survival.

My Review:

There was a bit more sand than usual in this entry in Hackett’s sand, swords, and spaceships saga of gladiators on an intergalactic pleasure planet far, far, far from Earth’s corner of the Milky Way galaxy. If you like your science fiction romance with a lot of strong, sexy heroes, very evil bad guys and more than a bit of “can’t go home again” angst, this series is a winner. But you really need to at least read the first book in the series, Gladiator, to see how it all fits so marvelously together.

And it’s such a fun ride that if you like either SFR or gladiator romance, the whole thing is a winner.

But about Champion in particular, this entry in the series breaks the pattern a bit, and I enjoyed it all the more for that. Up til now, all of the heroines have been the human women who were kidnapped from Jupiter Station and dragged through a temporary wormhole as slaves of the very evil Thraxians.

And the heroes have all been gladiators of the House of Galen, a house that is dedicated not just to fighting the good fight, but also to rescuing those, like many of the women from Earth, who are simply not meant to be gladiators.

This entry in the series still features one of the gladiators from the House of Galen, but this time it’s the heroine. Saff Essikani is the team’s net fighter, and she’s damn good. She’s also someone who overcame a childhood of being property, and understands all too well how those enslaved women feel.

The hero, on the other hand, the Champion of the title, is the first human male we’ve encountered who was also part of that kidnapping. Blaine has spent his several months of captivity in the underground fight rings, where his alternatives had been reduced to death or survival. He was rescued, along with three human women, at the end of Protector, but while his body may be free, his mind is still partially locked back in those cages.

He’s lost the iron control he used to be famous for, due to the rage amplifying drugs the slave masters injected him with to keep him in the fights. The withdrawal is beyond painful.

But just as he’s getting himself back together, the House of Galen is attacked, and every gladiator is needed to discover who is responsible, and finally put down their enemies, once and for all. And just as Saff and Blaine have finally discovered each other, they are both forced to relive their greatest nightmares, hoping that someone can free them, or that this time, they can save each other.

Escape Rating A-:For this reader, it had felt as if the series were descending into just a bit of a rut. A rut that was still plenty of fun to pull up a chair in and read, but not as fresh and new as at the beginning.

This book was a welcome change. Not just because of the gender reversal, where the woman is the gladiator and the man is the human, but also because the stakes got higher. One of the running threads in the series as a whole is that the House of Galen are the good guys, and the Thraxians and their allies the Srinar are very definitely the bad guys.

For admittedly loose definitions of good, bad and especially guys.

Up until Champion, the House of Galen has won every encounter. Those wins have meant increasing numbers of slaves freed from their captivity and either given good jobs or returned to the families from which they were stolen.

In this story, evil fights back. And it scores some really disgusting wins. But it’s necessary. Evil never just curls up into the fetal position and slinks away – at least not without seriously trying to reassert its evil ways and getting cut to ribbons by the forces of good. This is that attempt. And as so often happens, it succeeds, at least at first, because no one sees it coming. As it so often does, evil attacks through the noncombatants, and scores a big surprise victory.

As part of fighting back from that attack, the House of Galen not only has to begin rally its allies for a hopefully final assault on the evil, but it also has to finally dig down and determine the depths of that evil so that they can cut it out by the root.

And that’s where this story gets its heart. Saff and Blaine have to face and conquer their own very, very serious demons both to save the day and to be worthy of each other. While it is nail-bitingly scary in the doing of it, when they finally win through its absolutely awesome.

Review: Protector by Anna Hackett

Review: Protector by Anna HackettProtector (Galactic Gladiators #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #4
Pages: 218
Published by Anna Hackett on February 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

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

Cool and driven Madeline Cochran made a successful career for herself as civilian commander of a space station orbiting Jupiter…until the day it was attacked and she was abducted by alien slavers.

Her organized existence shattered, Madeline suffered during her captivity, but since her rescue by the tough gladiators of the House of Galen, she’s struggling to assimilate to her new life. As she navigates the desert world of Carthago and the gladiator city of Kor Magna, she desperately misses her teenage son back on Earth and throws herself into finding another human, space marine Blaine, still kept captive by the slavers. She also finds herself working harder than ever to avoid a certain charming showman gladiator who is far too attractive and far too tempting.

Gladiator Lore Uma-Xilene is a protector at heart and a sucker for a damsel in distress…although he’s well aware that the hard-shelled and sad-eyed Madeline wouldn’t appreciate the title. He knows what it feels like to be ripped from the family you love and have your life destroyed, and he wants to help Madeline heal. As the two of them go undercover into the dangerous world of underground gambling, Lore knows he’ll need all his patience, passion, and a whole lot of stubbornness to not only keep Madeline safe but to melt the icy shell around her heart.

My Review:

Protector is the fourth book in the author’s sun, sandals and stars series, Galactic Gladiators. The series begins with Gladiator, and the story there sets the stage. A temporary wormhole opens in the vicinity of the Jupiter Research Station in a near-future version of our solar system. A shipload of intergalactic slave traders takes advantage of the wormhole and the relatively low-tech Terrans to capture as many humans as possible, whipping back through the wormhole before it closes. It’s a one-way trip.

The slave-traders have unfortunately found out that human slaves are profitable, if only because they are rare. But once the surprisingly noble gladiatorial House of Galen buys the contract of the first human available to them, one after another the stranded humans have been rescued – even if they can’t return home.

Protector is Madeline Cochran’s story. On the Jupiter Station, she was the commander. Now on Kor Magna, her life has been reduced to one purpose – rescue the other human that she saw in the slave pits, Blaine. Not because there’s any relationship there, but because she can’t bear to leave anyone in the clutches of the slave trade.

And she’s so focused on that mission because her other reason for living was left behind back on Earth. Unlike the other heroines so far, Madeline left someone dear to her back home. Her teenaged son. That she knows she can never see him again eats at her like acid. She’s closed herself off to feeling anything else.

That’s where Lore comes in. One of the premier gladiators of the House of Galen, Lore can’t stop what Madeline makes him feel. And he doesn’t want to. What he wants is to give her a reason to keep living, and a reason to open her heart.

If she’s not too scared, and too guilt-ridden, to reach for it.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed this story a lot, but there wasn’t anything that made it rise to the level of Hero. Maybe every story needs a robotic pet? (Just kidding)

But Protector felt a bit formulaic. There’s a pattern to this series, and that pattern was on full display here, along with a whole lot of muscled flesh. At the very end of the previous book, Madeline is rescued, and Lore is the one that she briefly clings to during that rescue. Neither of them can forget those moments, and thus this book becomes their story.

In case you’re wondering, the pattern repeats at the end of Protector. Blaine and three more human women are rescued, and they are all set to fall in love with their rescuers.

As part of Madeline’s story, we see even more of the dark underbelly of Kor Magna. And it is very dark indeed. The remaining unrescued humans (that we know about) have been swallowed up by the illegal pit fighting underworld. That the illegal pits are entered by way of the sewers is a perfect metaphor for what is going on there.

The humans are expected to die in that underworld. That Blaine has managed to survive and even become a sort of champion is a surprise to everyone. It’s a surprise that brings the organizers even more money than they expected, and they don’t want to lose their source of revenue.

And some of them are just plain evil.

We also learn more about the above-board (ish) side of Kor Magna, particularly the information broker Zhim. He’s an interesting character I’d like to see more of. And he’s the creator of an event that changes the tenor of the series. It’s an event that reminds me of the Pathfinder Project in Star Trek Voyager, and I’m still not sure if it is a good plot device in this case or not. Time (and more books) will undoubtedly tell.

This series is great fun if you like science fiction romance, action-adventure romance, human/non-human romance, or just a good story with Big Damn Heroes. I can’t wait to see if my guesses turn out to be true in the next book, Champion.

Review: Hero by Anna Hackett

Review: Hero by Anna HackettHero (Galactic Gladiators #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #3
Pages: 150
Published by Anna Hackett on December 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

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

Raised from birth to be a soldier, Kace Tameron is a disciplined, military-trained gladiator. He is on contract to the Kor Magna Arena to hone his fighting skills on the blood-soaked arena sand and then return to the military. He lives for one thing: to protect his planet, and on his world, love is forbidden. But then he collides with a feisty redhead from Earth who threatens to shatter his legendary control.

One moment, Rory Fraser was an engineer on a space station circling Jupiter and the next, she is abducted by evil alien slavers. After suffering at the hands of the Thraxians, she is rescued by her friends—with the help of the tough gladiators of the House of Galen. Rory finds herself outrageously attracted to straight-laced Kace. He is a skilled fighter, ultra-disciplined, and a hero at heart—but she knows passion beats within him, if only he’ll let it loose.

Rory is obsessed with finding another fellow abducted female from Earth, but as she asks questions, she finds herself ducking bullets and explosions. Someone wants Rory dead. Kace steps in as her protector, and together, they embark on a dangerous mission that will take them deep into the bowels of the arena, and deep into a scorching desire…both of which could lead them to lose not only their guarded hearts, but their lives as well.

My Review:

When Rory Fraser holds out for a hero, she ends up with two – the clean-cut warrior Kace and the robotic dog he gives her. Both the man and the dog save Rory’s life, and more than once at that. And I think that Hero the robotic dog adds just that special something that makes Hero the book my favorite (so far!) of the Galactic Gladiators series.

gladiator by anna hackettThe overall arc of the series was set in the first book, Gladiator. In a not too distant future, an intergalactic slave ship rode an unstable wormhole from the arena planet of Kor Magna to our own solar system. In a lightning raid, the Thallaxians hit a Terran space station orbiting Jupiter, and grabbed as many of the personnel as they could manage before beating a hasty retreat before the wormhole closed.

Kor Magna is over 200 light years from Earth. There is no going back.

So one by one, the crew of that station have been rescuing each other from deeper and deeper pits of hell on Kor Magna. Gladiator was Harper’s story. In many ways, she was the lucky one, because she was “bought” by the House of Galen and immediately freed. Harper rescued Regan, and her story is told in Warrior. Regan, in her turn, rescued Rory.

Although many of the trappings of the Kor Magna Arena sound a lot like the gladiator fights in Imperial Rome, there’s much more under the surface. The fights are not to the death, and the better Houses spend a lot of money on high-tech healing equipment and excellent healers. The gladiators are an investment, and the Imperators of the better Houses want to protect that investment.

The House of Galen is more than just one of those “better” Houses. All of the gladiators are free – no slaves among them. And while on the surface they swagger just as much as any other group of gladiators, under that surface they invade other Houses, and even worse places, to free those who are abused or who just aren’t meant to be gladiators.

In other words, they are Big Damn Heroes.

Kace Tameron is one of the biggest. Not that all of the gladiators aren’t big, especially in comparison to the human women. Humans in general seem to be smaller than the galactic average as represented on Kor Magna. But Kace is one of the military volunteers in the arena. His planet sent him to Kor Magna for two year’s worth of special training. But his planet, locked in perpetual warfare, has done a good job of brainwashing him into believing that the fight is all there is, and that duty is honor and honor is duty.

Rory Fraser breaks through all that conditioning. She’s been freed from horrific captivity, and she wants to live. And she wants Kace to take that step forward into living life to the fullest right there with her. If he can.

Because he’ll break her heart if he can’t.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this one. I definitely think it’s the best of the series so far, and I can hardly wait for more.

One of the things that made this particular entry in the series so special was the introduction of little Hero. Rory is an engineer, and she always wants to tinker and fix things. When Kace gives her Hero, it shows both the love that he is trying to run away from, and also just how much he understands her. Hero is both someone she can love and something she can tinker with, all wrapped into one dog-shaped package.

Hero may be mechanical, but he acts just like a dog. And it’s awesome and sweet. I’ve been looking for a word equivalent to anthropomorphic to describe Hero. There is no attempt to make the robot seem human, instead, the robot is completely DOG. Caninomorphic?

One of the other things I really liked about this particular story is that neither of the characters gets into the “I’m not worthy” shtick. Kace has been programmed to believe that love is basically a hormonal imbalance wrapped up in a distraction. And he’s right in that Rory certainly does distract him. But it’s never about thinking he’s unworthy, it all about thinking that love doesn’t exist, and that he’s not supposed to emotionally connect to anyone. Likewise, while Rory is finding her footing, she has some pretty good and realistic ideas about how to earn her place in the House of Galen. She has both engineering chops and mixed-martial-arts skills. She never doubts her ability to make herself useful. Her only frustrations are getting Kace’s head out of his gorgeous ass and following the clues to the next enslaved human.

In each book, the ending foreshadows the next one, as each heroine rescues another human, who finds herself safe in the arms of one of the gladiators of the House of Galen. So I think I know who’s next. And hopefully saw some foreshadowing of the one after that. And they both look marvelous!

Review: Warrior by Anna Hackett

Review: Warrior by Anna HackettWarrior (Galactic Gladiators #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #2
Pages: 155
Published by Anna Hackett on November 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

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

It was supposed to be an exciting job on a space station, but instead, scientist Dr. Regan Forrest finds herself fighting for her life when she’s kidnapped by alien slavers. Far from Earth and forced into a violent gladiatorial arena on the outer rim, she finds herself swept into the brawny arms of a big, wild alien gladiator.

Weapon, brute, gladiator, warrior… Sirrush warrior Thorin has been called many things. As a warrior of his people, he was a dark, dangerous weapon until even his own family were too afraid of him. Sold into slavery in the Kor Magna Arena, he has long ago earned his freedom. Now he enjoys the violent but rewarding life he’s carved out for himself. Until he rescues one small, smart, and perplexing female from alien slavers.

Regan is determined to make a place for herself in her new home. She may not have the skills to fight in the arena, but she’s smart and knows she can help...even as she fights her attraction to the big, bold, and fascinating Thorin. She knows he’ll never be interested in her. But when Regan catches a glimpse of her cousin across a crowded market, she needs help to mount a rescue, and it comes in the form of the gladiator she desperately wants. A gladiator hiding a dark, uncontrollable secret with the power to destroy them both.

My Review:

This was the perfect book to read last night after I gave up on watching the election news. It was ALL bad, so I decided to go to bed and live in delusional hope for one more night.

I got swept away by Warrior, and I’m oh so grateful that I did. For a brief hour or two, I was as far away from Earth as I could get, cheering on the fighters in a gladiatorial arena on the far side of the galaxy.

gladiator by anna hackettThe first book of Hackett’s Galactic Gladiators series is Gladiator, and it sets up the worldbuilding and the overarching story for the series, as well as featuring its very own Happy For Now. It doesn’t feel like an HEA, not because there are any doubts about or between the romantic leads, but because they are living in a dangerous situation. They are both arena gladiators, and while the combat isn’t supposed to be deadly, accidents certainly do happen. And sometimes they’re not accidents.

And this particular group of gladiators spends some of its nights hiding in the shadows, rescuing captives who have been purchased by other, less honorable gladiatorial houses,

Gladiator ends with one such rescue. The Thraxians kidnapped at least three women from a Terran space station orbiting Jupiter. Harper, the heroine of Gladiator, has become one herself. At the end of Gladiator Harper, along with the other fighters from the House of Galen, rescue the second, Regan.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, at the end of Warrior they rescue the third. Her story will be told in Hero, and I can’t wait!)

But Warrior is Regan’s story. She’s not the warrior of the title, though. That would be Thorin. He is one, big, tough warrior, but he’s also a man who has been wounded and betrayed too many times to believe that he is worthy of being anything more than a fighter and a killer. He believes that the monster who lives inside him makes him less than man.

Regan thinks he’s more man than she ever expected might be interested in her shy and bookish self. Of course they’re both wrong. The romance (and the danger) are in the ways that they finally figure things out.

But only while dodging a kidnapping attempt and using Regan as a very vulnerable Trojan Horse in order to rescue her friend.

The action and the hot romance never stop in Warrior. Prepare to be swept away for a steamy good time.

Escape Rating A-: I liked Warrior even more than I did Gladiator. Some of that is right book, right time, and more of it has to do with the world being just a bit more established. The heavy worldbuilding lifting was done in Gladiator, now the author has the opportunity to flesh out more of the details.

The flesh is definitely worth ogling, too. Your mind will be filled with visions of eye candy during this series.

At the same time, while the romance heats up, we also get to see a bit more of how the arena system, and the House of Galen, operate. This world is like Las Vegas hopped up on steroids and blasted into outer space. It’s a gritty place, where the lights and the glamour hide a whole lot of seedy underbelly. Which makes it darkly fascinating.

hero by anna hackettIf you like your setting a bit desperate, your action nonstop and your romance hotter than a rocket ship, I highly recommend that you let Warrior sweep you off your feet for an evening. And then hold out for Hero, coming in December.

Review: Gladiator by Anna Hackett

Review: Gladiator by Anna HackettGladiator (Galactic Gladiators #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #1
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on October 25th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

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

When Earth space marine Harper Adams finds herself abducted by alien slavers off a space station, her life turns into a battle for survival. Dumped into an arena on a desert planet on the outer rim, she finds herself face to face with a big, tattooed alien gladiator…the champion of the Kor Magna Arena.

A former prince abandoned to the arena as a teen, Raiden Tiago has long ago earned his freedom. Now he rules the arena, but he doesn’t fight for the glory, but instead for his own dark purpose—revenge against the Thraxian aliens who destroyed his planet. Then his existence is rocked by one small, fierce female fighter from an unknown planet called Earth.

Harper is determined to find a way home, but when she spots her best friend in the arena—a slave of the evil Thraxian aliens—she’ll do anything to save her friend…even join forces with the tough, alpha male who sets her body on fire. But as Harper and Raiden step foot onto the blood-soaked sands of the arena, Harper worries that Raiden has his own dangerous agenda…

My Review:

This one is purely for fun. There’s no great message here, and I’m not too sure about any overarching story, like Hell Squad or Phoenix Adventures. This is just plain fun.

It’s also a good take on the infamous “Mars needs Women” trope in science fiction romance, A trope I don’t normally like, but is done well in this case. Because it isn’t Mars as a whole (so to speak) that needs Earth women, just three intergalactic gladiators in particular.

It has to get started somewhere. The somewhere in this case is Space Marine Harper Adams, stationed on a scientific research station orbiting Jupiter. Disaster strikes in the form of interplanetary slave raiders, the Thraxians, who look like the Terran equivalent of demons and break into the station and kidnap several of the scientists and marines stationed there, including Harper.

But unlike many of the captives, Harper is a trained warrior. Whenever she has the opportunity, she fights back. It earns her several beatings, and the undying enmity of one of the leaders, but also keeps her in fighting shape. A preparation she needs when she is sold on an outer Rim planet as a potential gladiator for the Kor Magna Arena on Carthago..

And that’s where everything changes. Harper is a good fighter to begin with, but she’s also deceptively strong. She’s smaller and shorter than most of the gladiators in the arena, but she’s also faster. It turns out that Earth has a slightly heavier gravity than Carthago, so she gets an unexpected strength boost.

It takes her a few days to find out both the good news, the bad news, and the dangerous news.

The bad news comes first. The Thraxians found Earth by accident, through a temporary wormhole. Earth is on the far side of the galaxy. Even if she stole a ship, it would take 200 plus years to get home. It’s a blow, but not as big as it might have been. Harper has nothing and no one left on Earth. She can make a home on Carthago if she can manage to accept her new circumstances.

Those new circumstances are nothing like she expected. She’s been enslaved, and she sees the gladiators in the arena as slaves, and thinks the gladiatorial contests are like the popular perception of the Roman Empire. That might be true in some of the other houses, but not in the House of Galen, the House that bought Harper’s “contract”.

Once she fights her way through her trial bout, Harper discovers the good news, for certain select definitions of good. She learns that the House of Galen, for all of its deserved badass reputation on the arena sands, has a surprisingly soft heart. All the gladiators are free, and they all fight because they can, and because the fights that they win allow them to bargain for the freedom of those who have been brought to Carthago from far-distant worlds but who are not suitable for the arena.

There is also the dangerous news. Fighting in the arena, fighting with the team that belongs to the House of Galen, Harper finds a place where she belongs, a purpose she can believe in and a man that she has come to love.

And it all threatens to go pear-shaped when the Thraxians dangle the presence of two of her friends from that Earth space station in front of her eyes. She’ll do anything to rescue her friends from Earth, no matter what the cost to herself, to the House of Galen, or to any future she might possibly have with the love of her very surprising life.

Escape Rating B+: For a story that is this much fun, there is a lot going on. While for this reader it feels like the focus is on Harper, because she is the one who has to make the big adjustment, there is definitely a romance here.

Raiden is the lost prince of a world that the Thraxians literally destroyed. They didn’t just wipe out the civilization, they placed bombs in the planet’s core so that it would break apart. Just like Harper, Raiden can’t go home again. He’s made a life for himself as a gladiator, fighting to free as many people as possible, one way or another.

Harper makes him feel, which is both dangerous and life-affirming, especially when they both have a nasty tendency to go off alone in dangerous situations to solve their problems.

I would love to know how things got to be the way they are in this place. Also more about the Thraxians. They have a bit more “evil for evil’s sake” in them than I would like. In other words, Hell Squad got much better for me when we learned the Gizzida’s motives. I may not like their motives, but understanding them helps me enjoy the series a whole lot more. We need to see that here on Carthago.

The whole “alternate gladiator” thing reminded me of another book, which of course I had to look for. If you like this kind of scenario, but want something darker and grimmer, you might like Lindsey Piper’s Dragon Kings series, starting with Silent Warrior. The way that the gladiator contests work has a similar feel, even if Dragon Kings is set on Earth.

warrior by anna hackettI enjoyed Gladiator a lot, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, Warrior. It looks like each book will match one of the gladiators of the House of Galen with one of the Earth women who was brought to Carthago. And it looks like a whole lot of sexy, sweaty fun!

Reviewer’s note: I don’t often see the name Galen used in fiction. My husband’s name is Galen, so I got a big kick out of thinking of him in the role of the leader of these gladiators!