Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Sectors SF #7
Published by Jean D Walker on June 20th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
He rescued her from space pirates ... but can he keep them both safe from the far greater evil stalking a deserted planet? Space travel without Kidnap & Ransom insurance? Not a good idea. University instructor and researcher Sara Bridges can't afford it, so when pirates board her cruise liner, she's taken captive along with the mistress of a wealthy man, and brought to a deserted planet. When a military extraction team sent to rescue the mistress refuses to take Sara too, she's left to the mercies of a retired Special Forces soldier, along as consultant. Reluctantly reactivated and coerced into signing up for the rescue operation to the planet Farduccir where he once was deployed, Sgt. Johnny Danver just wants to get the job done. But when the team leader leaves one captured woman behind, he breaks away to rescue her himself. As Johnny and Sara traverse the barren landscape, heading for an abandoned base where they hope to call Sectors Command for help, they find villages destroyed by battle and stripped of all inhabitants. A lone survivor tells a horrific tale of the Sectors' alien enemy, the Mawreg, returning after being pushed out ... Searching for evidence to give the military, Johnny is captured. He regains consciousness in a Mawreg cage-with Sara next to him. Death is preferable to what the aliens will do to them... And even if they do escape their captors, can they alert the military in time to prevent another invasion of the Sectors?
I picked up Hostage to the Stars because I just finished book 5 in the Sectors SF series, Star Cruise: Outbreak and I liked it so much I wanted to continue with this world. I had a bit of a book hangover and wasn’t quite ready to leave this place yet. And since I was admittedly looking for a short book, I skipped over book 6 in the series, Lady of the Star Wind, although I’m enjoying the series enough that I’ll probably go back to it at some point. But the books in this series don’t seem to directly follow one another. It’s the same universe, but different places, different crises and different people.
Just as Star Cruise: Outbreak is closest in spirit to the first book in the series, Wreck of the Nebula Dream, Hostage to the Stars echoes back to the third book, Mission to Mahjundar, reviewed previously over at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.
But I’ll confess that I haven’t read Mission to Mahjundar, and that lack did not influence my enjoyment of Hostage to the Stars. While the hero of Hostage to the Stars was a secondary character in Mission, it’s been quite a few years and it wasn’t his story. The story in Mission belongs to Johnny’s cousin Mike. And that’s where this story begins.
Special Forces needs to reactivate somebody with knowledge of the planet Farduccir, and they aren’t very picky about who, or what condition they reactivate them in. It’s been 15 years since either Mike or Johnny was on the hellhole called Farduccir, and neither of them wants to go back. More importantly, after the events in Mission, Mike is now married and is wife is pregnant. It’s his cousin Johnny’s professional assessment that Mike has lost the edge necessary to survive in Special Ops, and that while Mike has commitments keeping him home, Johnny is expendable. He volunteers to take his cousin’s place, knowing full well that the mission has more chances of going FUBAR than not.
Especially when he finds out that the whole purpose of the mission is to rescue an up and coming planetary governor’s mistress from space pirates. And no, she is not our heroine, just someone caught in a lot of messy crossfire.
That Farduccir is now infested with space pirates is bad enough. That space piracy has become such a common business model, completely with pirates accepting insurance certificates for ransom to be collected later, shows there’s something rotten somewhere. This whole situation is a clusterf**k of epic proportions.
But while the extraction team gets the mistress away with no problem, on her way out the lady reveals that she was not the only human female in the compound. The guards have been torturing the young woman who was kidnapped with her. Said young woman, Sara Bridges, did not have any K&R (Kidnap and Rescue) insurance, so the pirates decided to get their money’s worth out of her by other means.
The extraction team doesn’t care about Sara, but Johnny can’t stand to leave anyone behind – even someone he hasn’t met yet. Until he either rescues Sara or determines that she’s beyond reach, he’ll stay and find her.
Sara is not only still alive, but still has enough spirit to be Johnny’s partner in a race to find out what really happened on Farduccir, and what is still happening. All the while heading towards a barely possible escape.
It’s a race against time and deadly hunters, gathering vital intelligence that must be transmitted to Johnny’s old bosses at any cost. It is not the place to fall in love. But only love can save them.
Escape Rating B+: Hostage to the Stars is wonderfully improbable, and it’s a wild ride from beginning to end. Also from the first page to the last. I couldn’t put it down.
Johnny is every Sergeant in any military that has ever been. He knows the job he is supposed to do, and he goes in and does it. In Special Forces, he’s not used to following strict orders or a chain of command. He’s there to get the job done.
Lucky for Sera.
One of the fun things in the story is the way that the Service can reactivate both Johnny and Mike pretty much on a whim. And they do. One of the phrases that gets used in the story is the concept of “gravity” as applied to political power. The provincial governor has a lot of it, and can use it to put pressure on anyone, even Special Forces. At the same time, Special Forces is only willing to send a retired operative, not a currently serving soldier. And they do everything in a big hurry, because Mike has “gravity” on their home planet, and if he has a chance to bring it to bear he can get himself and Johnny out of this fix.
He needs it when he has to ride to Johnny’s rescue.
But before that we have Johnny and Sara, running across a desolate planet, trying to figure out what happened to all the people that were there 15 years ago, and trying to stay a half-step ahead of their pursuers.
It’s fascinating that the Special Forces have standing orders not to remain in contact with anyone they rescue. In the highly charged scenario of a hostage rescue, it’s not surprising that the hostage would bond with her rescuer, or even vice versa.
In this case, even though things proceed at a fairly rapid pace, it feels right. And it does take them several days, as well as a brief stop in relative safety, to finally act on their feelings. These are two people who both have a bunch of scars and a whole lot of PTSD, and who discover that they make each other strong in the broken places.
In addition to being terrific SFR, Hostage to the Stars would be a good story to introduce military romance/romantic suspense readers to the genre. While the interplanetary war and space service do add to the story, it’s also a well-done take on the hostage-falls-for-her-rescuer brand of romantic suspense.
I’m looking forward to going back and picking up the stories I’ve missed, and exploring this universe further.
Originally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly