Review: Through Uncharted Space by Anna Hackett

Review: Through Uncharted Space by Anna HackettThrough Uncharted Space Formats available: ebook
Series: Phoenix Adventures #10
Pages: 183
on September 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

A deep-space convoy master who demands everyone follow his rules discovers a stowaway on his ship: a smart scam artist who’s never met a rule she wouldn’t break.
Dare Phoenix runs his convoy with absolute control. In uncharted space, lives depend on it. When one plain, dowdy woman comes aboard, his gut tells him that something is off about her. Soon there are assassins on his ship, sabotage, and people dying, and Dare discovers his drab passenger is definitely not what she seems. Instead, he uncovers a smart-mouthed scam artist who defies him at every turn.
Dakota Jones is a survivor. Life has taught her that if you don’t grab what you want, someone else will snatch it away. Tired of having nothing, she’s stolen a map to the location of an immense lost treasure from Earth and she’s going to find it. Okay, so maybe stealing the map from a deadly terrorist group wasn’t her best decision, but now she just needs to dodge their crazy followers, hide out on the Phoenix Convoy, and find a way to decode the map. Easy, right? Wrong. As soon as she sets eyes on the sexy, in-charge Dare Phoenix, she knows she’s made a terrible mistake.
Dare and Dakota strike sparks at every turn…but with her life in danger, she reluctantly agrees to join forces with Dare to find the treasure. But every step of their adventure is dogged by danger, and the biggest threat they face is getting burned by their incendiary attraction. On this hunt, they will find themselves going beyond their depths, tested to their limits, and deep in uncharted territory.

My Review:

return to dark earth by anna hackettI’ve enjoyed every single book in Hackett’s Phoenix Adventures series, from the very beginning At Star’s End to this latest book in the series.

And one of these days I fully expect to discover that the contemporary treasure hunting family in her new Treasure Hunter Security series are the direct ancestors of the Phoenix brothers – both sets of them.

The Phoenix Adventures are set in a gritty far-future post-diaspora galaxy. The mother planet, Earth, is still a nuclear wreck, explored all too dangerously in Return to Dark Earth

Humans have even interbred, or genetically engineered, some interesting hybrids, like Nissa Phoenix (nee Sanders), Captain of the Phoenix convoy flagship and wife to her former nemesis, Justyn Phoenix (see Beyond Galaxy’s Edge for the details on that story.)

In this latest entry in the series, Through Uncharted Space, Dare Phoenix and his brothers Justyn and Rynan are indeed traveling through uncharted space, leading a convoy to far-distant worlds, taking their passengers into the unsettled black where there is opportunity for a better life for many, and a chance of adventure for others.

For this branch of the Phoenix family, it’s a living.

But when Dare discovers that one of their passengers is much, much more than she initially appeared to be, the whole family gets bit by the treasure hunting bug yet again. And Dare finds that the troublesome package that Dakota Jones represents is everything that he’s been searching for – whether they find the treasure she seeks or not.

As Dare and Dakota at first resist but eventually succumb to the chemistry between them, the convoy detours into a search for a long-lost Earth treasure ship – and the waterworld it crashed on.

In order to get the treasure all that Dare and Dakota have to do is find a planet that no one believes exists, while dodging a horde of determined assassins who will let nothing get in the way of getting to the treasure first – and killing anyone who gets in their way. And Dakota Jones is first on their hit list.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I was looking for a book that would carry me away to its world for a few blissful hours – and Anna Hackett’s books always do.

at stars end by anna hackettThis is a long-running series, and I enjoy it every single time. Which doesn’t mean that there are not easily discernible patterns to the stories. Just like Eos Rai in the first book, At Star’s End, Dakota is hiding who she is and what she really wants in order to reach a goal that she fears the Phoenixes will steal from her. All the while hiding from someone much more nefarious in pursuit.

And both women have roughly the same goal, to find the location of a lost Earth transport ship carrying massive amounts of pre-diaspora Earth treasure. Eos, who has a brief cameo in Through Uncharted Space, found the Mona Lisa and countless Terran art treasures. Dakota is searching for the Atocha Treasure, which may be the treasure from the Spanish treasure galleon the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. If it isn’t this actual treasure, the prize in Through Uncharted Space was almost certainly inspired by it.

One of the fascinating things about this series is the way that the stories link together, without absolutely requiring the reader to start at the very beginning (although it’s all awesome, so why wouldn’t you?)

In this case, the assassins hunting Dakota are in the employ of Nissa Phoenix’ brother, who is the leader of a deadly cult. We’ve run into him and his gang before, and we undoubtedly will again.

But the story here, as always, is the search for the treasure and the unexpected romance between Dakota and Dare. That romance is not unexpected on the part of the reader, but it certainly is on the part of the participants.

Both of these people have a whole lot of dark buried in their pasts. They both come from histories of extreme poverty and hellish abuse, and they both escaped. But neither believes themselves either capable of or worthy of being loved, and neither trusts outsiders at all. They have a tremendous amount to overcome, and nothing that happens in this story makes it easy.

But it is so satisfying when they make it.

SFRQ-button-vsmallOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Lost in Barbarian Space by Anna Hackett

Review: Lost in Barbarian Space by Anna HackettLost in Barbarian Space by Anna Hackett
Formats available: ebook
Series: Phoenix Adventures #9
Pages: 165
on April 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

A clash of cultures. Security agent versus barbarian warrior. On an expedition to a newly discovered barbarian world, an experienced security agent doesn't expect to be working with a big, bossy barbarian warrior.

Agent Honor Brandall enjoys her job as security agent for the Institute of Historical Preservation's expedition ships. Adventures to distant planets - awesome. Archeological digs for ancient old Earth artifacts - interesting. Keeping the archeologists safe - no problem. The fact she's tall, strong and good in a fight means most of the men she works with are intimidated by her, but she refuses to apologize for being good at her job. But on a mission to the barbarian world of Markaria, she finds herself paired with a brawny warrior who challenges her in every way.

Markarian warrior Colm Mal Kor is second-in-command to his warlord and spends his days training to hone his skills and control. He's dedicated to defending his clan...and to hiding the deadly secret he can never share with anyone. But when he's thrust into working with a beautiful, challenging skyflyer, Colm finds a wild attraction he never expected and the biggest risk to his hard-earned control that he's ever encountered.

On an expedition to Markaria's icy moons, Honor and Colm work side by side, but the ice and snow aren't enough to stop them from wanting each other. As their mission takes a deadly turn, they must trust each other to survive, but it isn't just wild beasts and ferocious enemies that are a danger... Colm is harboring something inside him that is far more lethal...something that might destroy them all.

My Review:

on a barbarian world by anna hackettWhen I reviewed On a Barbarian World last year, I sadly thought that it might be the last of the Phoenix Adventures. I’m so happy I was WRONG!

Lost in Barbarian Space has its roots in two of the earlier Phoenix Adventures. Niklas Phoenix and Nera Darc are now leading the Galactic Historical Institute. How they reached that position, and how they finally fell for each other, is told in the absolutely awesome Return to Dark Earth.

The “barbarian space” that this new book is lost in, is the space discovered by Niklas cousin Aurina in On a Barbarian World. We get to explore that world a lot more in this book. There are more ships available than Aurina had, and only one of them manages to make a crash landing this time.

But Niklas, Nera and Aurina are only side characters this time around. Instead, our protagonists are the security officers for the two sides of this equation. Honor Brandell is Nera Darc’s second-in-command for the Institute’s security. And Colm Mal Kor is Kavon’s right-hand-man. (Kavon was the hero in On a Barbarian World).

There is a pattern to the entries in this series. The hero and heroine always start out in a position where they can’t possibly have a future together. Niklas and Nera were always competing for the same artifacts. Aurina was an interstellar scout, and Kavon was a barbarian war leader tied to his people and his planet. Justyn and Nissa (Beyond Galaxy’s Edge) start out on opposite sides of the law.

In the case of Lost in Barbarian Space, there are a whole shipload of reasons why Honor and Colm don’t believe they could have a future together.

Honor is a warrior. She prefers to protect rather than to kill, which is why she isn’t in the Galactic Security Service, but she is still a warrior and a damn good one. Colm’s people don’t believe that women are physically suited to be warriors. They can and often are anything and everything else, it’s not that the society is that backwards. But their men are generally many times stronger than their women, and it makes them more effective warriors.

Honor is from what sounds like a heavy-world, which makes her name even more appropriate. She may not be as strong as one of the nanami-enhanced warriors of Markaria, but she is much closer than anyone believes.

However, that strength has meant that there have been too many men in her past who want a one-night stand with someone who is a bit different, but can’t accept her differences for the long haul. As much as she is attracted to Colm, he all too frequently sounds like just another guy who wants a bit, but not too much, strange for a night.

Colm has a different problem with having more with Honor than a one-night stand than anyone is aware of. His nanami, the enhanced nanites that give his people their strength, their enhanced senses, and their remarkable healing ability, are going out of control, just like his father’s did. In other words, Colm is going incurably and violently nuts. This is a relatively rare but well-documented condition among the Markarians, and there is no cure.

So Colm doesn’t want to get emotionally involved because he’s afraid that he will either abuse her, as his father did both him and his mother or that he will have to leave to go die alone in the wilderness. Or both.

But the heart wants what the heart wants, even if, or perhaps especially when, the mind is going batshit crazy.

Escape Rating A-: Like all of the books in the Phoenix Adventures series, Lost in a Barbarian World had a satisfying ending and still left me wanting more. I love the novellas in this series, but I always finish them thinking that I just didn’t get to spend enough time in this marvelous world.

At least this time, when I finished the book I saw that there is at least one more book in the series, tentatively titled Through Uncharted Space. This is a journey that I will be sad to see end, so I hope it doesn’t for a good while yet.

About this story — one of the things I liked best about it was the character of Honor. She’s a strong woman without being a stereotypical “strong female character”. While she knows that she is who she is meant to be, she’s also taken some hard emotional knocks for the things that make her different. And while those knocks don’t make her change who she is, they do hurt and she gets emotionally scarred by some of that hurt.

I also love that she rescues herself. There is a scene fairly early on when the bad guys (space pirates!) attempt to kidnap her. Colm rides to the rescue. Just as I was moaning about looking like the author fell into the stereotype of putting the woman in jeopardy, Colm catches up to the bad guy only to discover that Honor has already dispatched the bastard. Talk about turning the trope on its head! (Then pulling the head off and spitting in the bloody stump – not literally but certainly figuratively)

One of the things I did not love about On a Barbarian World is the way that Aurina completely gives up her life as a scout to stay on Markaria with Kavon. It was the only way a happy ending could work in that story, but I didn’t like the fall into the expected, where the woman gives up her life and becomes even semi-domesticated.

That doesn’t happen in Lost in Barbarian Space, and it makes the ending that much sweeter.

Review: On a Barbarian World by Anna Hackett

Review: On a Barbarian World by Anna HackettOn a Barbarian World by Anna Hackett
Formats available: ebook
Series: Phoenix Adventures #8
Pages: 184
Published by Anna Hackett on December 18th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

When an independent deep-space scout crash-lands on an unknown alien world, the last thing she expects is to find herself claimed by a barbarian warrior.

Aurina Phoenix spends most of her time zooming through uncharted space and gathering intel for her family’s deep-space convoy, but her life takes an unexpected detour when a meteor shower brings down her ship. She finds herself on a barren, low-tech planet inhabited by dangerous beasts…and lands in the arms of a brawny barbarian warlord.

Markarian warrior Kavon Mal Dor is known for his skill in battle. He lives to protect his clan…and to avenge the murder of his father. Every move he makes is part of his grand plan for revenge, including finding a legendary sword and marrying a warlord’s daughter. But when a beautiful skyflyer crashes into his world, she is the one thing he never counted on.

Fighting their incendiary attraction, Aurina and Kavon make a deal: she’ll help him find the sword and in return, he’ll give her the emergency beacon she needs to get home. But as the search for the sword plunges them into a dangerous adventure they find themselves consumed by a powerful passion and questioning everything they’ve ever wanted.

My Review:

This is the eighth, and possibly the last, book in Hackett’s Phoenix Adventures. Even though two of Aurina’s half-brothers are still searching for women who can put up with them, their stories do not appear to be on the horizon at the moment.

beyond galaxy's edge by anna hackettWhile the story in On a Barbarian World stands alone, it has its roots in Beyond Galaxy’s Edge (reviewed here), where Aurina’s half-brother Justyn finally manages to catch the Patrol Captain who has been hunting his smuggling ass up and down the galaxy for years.

It also has some parallels to On a Rogue Planet. Not so much in its story as in its protagonist. In Rogue Planet, the female cousin of the other set of Phoenix brothers finds herself stranded on a planet in the middle of a coup. In On a Barbarian World the only female member of this side of the Phoenix family finds herself stranded on a low-tech world after her scoutship crashes in the middle of a meteor shower.

The men in this series mostly hunt down, or are hunted down by, the women who become the loves of their lives. The women in this series have to get grounded to find theirs, and the metaphor is unfortunately sticking with me.

In many ways, this is kind of a first-contact story. While the relatively primitive Markarians have legends about space travellers, no one seems to have actually met one. So when Aurina’s crashed ship is discovered, she’s quite a novelty.

And of course the barbarian leader immediately claims her. While that initially claiming is stepped back a bit, it certainly has lots of sexual overtones. Kavon Mal Dor may be overtly giving Aurina the stranger the protection of his clan because every Markarian belongs to a clan, but it is clear from the beginning that Kavon really wants to claim Aurina.

There’s a whole lot of lust-at-first-sight going on here. Initially, what attracts Kavon is just how different she is. Aurina is a fiery redhead with a redhead’s coloring (and temper). She is also on the curvy side. Markarians, on the other hand, are tall and muscular, including the women. And they are all bronze-dark, a result of their possible Saurian ancestry.

As their relationship develops, Kavon and Aurina make a lot of assumptions about each other, most of which are demonstrably false. The barbarians are much, much less barbaric than Aurina assumes. Well, at least Kavon’s people are. His enemies are just as nasty as Aurina might imagine.

And of course Kavon thinks that Aurina needs his protection, both because she is a woman and because she is a stranger. Only one of those two things really matters, and a big part of the development of their relationship is Kavon learning to treat Aurina as an equal, in a culture where no one is his equal. Kavon is warlord, and everyone else in the clan is his subordinate. Except Aurina. She is always insubordinate. But utterly captivating to a man who is not used to needing to actually pursue the woman he wants.

Kavon and Aurina make a deal. She will use her scouting skills to help him find the legendary sword Durendal. In return, he will return her e-beacon to her, allowing her to contact her brothers and return to her old life.

In the end, the only life they both want is the one that they can make together. On Markaria. But it will only happen if they both stop making assumptions about who the other is, and what the other wants, before it is too late.

Escape Rating B-: I liked this, but not nearly as much as the other books in The Phoenix Adventures. For a lot of the story, it struck me too much as “barbarian tames skyflier” and with not nearly enough science fiction in my science fiction romance.

The story seemed a bit of a throwback, kind of like Kavon. We have the feisty woman who finally gets the warrior to respect her wishes, while he retains all the power, and in the end she gives up her life to stay with him. This story isn’t quite like that, but it came close enough to the old “noble savage vs. civilized woman” romance to make me uncomfortable.

at stars end by anna hackettI really liked the parts where the science fiction aspects came to the forefront. Kavon is searching for the lost legendary sword Durendal, which is a piece of the Song of Roland. So it’s a legend now, in our world, and it is still a legend in the future. That was cool. When Aurina finds Durendal for Kavon, she also finds an Earth treasure-trove similar to the one that Eos finds in At Star’s End (reviewed here).

When Aurina discovers the sword, she also finds information about Markaria’s gods, who turn out not to be gods after all, but stranded star travelers just like herself. Her search upsets their entire culture, and yet everyone manages to adjust reasonable well surprisingly quickly. I loved the search and discovery, but I’m not sure the aftermath would be quite so peaceful. If someone discovered that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from the Bible were extraterrestrials, and could prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, the resultant crises in Christianity, Judaism and Islam would probably tear the world apart.

Or that’s my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

On a Barbarian World also suffered from villain failure. Kavon’s rival Drog is a low-down, lying, stealing, cheating scum. He obviously has no honor, which is a very big deal in Markarian culture. But we don’t see enough of him to know why, and he is dispatched much too easily in the climactic battle. I would love to have seen his trial and execution, just to find out what he thought he was doing.

among galactic ruins by anna hackettAll in all, On a Barbarian World feels like a coda to The Phoenix Adventures series. While it is possible to start with this relatively stand alone story, a better time will be had by starting with At Star’s End or Among Galactic Ruins (reviewed here).