Vesta is not just good at what she does, she’s great. She’s a master marksman, a trained fighter, a brilliant strategist, and, more than that, a mind reader. A genetic quirk of her people allows Vesta to see the electrical signals that power the nervous system and brain, to see when a person’s blood is racing, when their arm is about to move, when their pleasure center sparks, or when they’re angry, thoughtful, hopeful, or in love. It’s a great asset for someone in her line of business. Vesta and her small group work to relocate people in need — spies, whistleblowers, and turncoats — and in a galactic empire where corporations have (for the most part) replaced kingdoms, Vesta and her little force are in high demand.
This time the person they’re rescuing is Alben Tion, an accountant, who just wanted to get away from things for a little while. With the northern route being expanded to add in trade and humanitarian efforts to more planets, with powerful corporations investing sizable fortunes while dealing with possible revolutions, the collapse of existing power struggles, rival companies moving in, governments and their armies getting involved both for politics and just to piss people off — well, Alben has his own thoughts on that, and information to move from one person to another. But what that information is or who he’s moving it for, Vesta doesn’t care. Maybe she should.
This book feels like a mix of Jack Reacher and James Bond, with a dash of Mission Impossible. It has action, politics, lengthy discussions around computer screens, placating powerful potentates while encouraging and participating in rebellions … all in space. It’s beautiful women, powerful men, and a lot of exposition and filler. At about 10% into the book, I was struggling to maintain an interest and, by 30%, I was bored. There’s a lot of padding in this book, a lot of descriptions of the shiny, glossy world; of ships; and about what people are wearing; and a slow, incremental divulging of plot-related information. The pacing drags, going from lethargic to standing still, and the characters seem to stand around and listen to people giving them information. And while all of this waiting is happening, somewhere off page, Vesta falls in love with Piata Fausta.
Piata is a powerful woman, born to a powerful family, and spends her days and nights on one of her ships, drifting through space and picking up strays. Strays like Vesta, whose escape pod slammed into the side of her ship while escaping the Azmaveth ship who wanted to detain her. Piata’s ship designs couture wardrobes, her chefs create gourmet meals, and Piata charms them with her beauty and her smile.
There is a decided physical attraction between the two women. When Vesta is watching Piata, her thoughts are filled with descriptions of Piata’s beauty; her skin, her hair, her laugh, her clothing … but the two of them spend so little time together on page, talking or interacting. While I can believe they get along in bed, I have no idea what they’re like as a couple. Or who they are as people. This book is very action oriented, with a great deal of effort spent on descriptions of character’s clothing, of the food they’re eating, the ships and rooms and planets, but far less focus on thoughts or emotions.
The second POV character, Cal Sunn, is an Azmaveth officer playing the part of detective. While he was sent to deal with Vesta, his greater attention is on Alben Tion — who he is, where he is, why he left, and what he intends to do with the information he has. Cal spends a lot of time listening to people tell him various facts. A lot of time delegating. I found his chapters rather tedious, as I found much of the book, to be honest. I just find it hard to care about what kind of damage this weapon can do versus that one, or whether the seats in this ship are heated or not.
The world building is the primary focus of this book. A great deal of time and energy is spent describing ships, rooms, cultures, and foods, but it’s done in a very stilted way. Rather than have a character experience something, they’re told the information they need, or they launch into an explanation for someone else. It’s a lot of telling and comes off as a dry recitation of facts. It didn’t work for me and I struggled, a lot, with this book.
In the position Vesta is in, as a hero, as a main character responsible for carrying the weight of a detailed and complex plot on her shoulders, Vesta has to be better, faster, sharper, and smarter than anyone and everyone else. Vesta is — I’m told — skilled at getting along with people. She is able to keep up with trained royal guards, almost a better marksman than their best shooter, and fits in so well with the guard that they were shocked when she turned out to be the famous Vesta Amore, a politician and not a normal person like one of them. However, while reading people so well, while being so good at understanding them, Vesta distracts a sexual predator by aiming him at one of her friends, which leads to the expected assault of her friend (the man made no effort to hide his entitlement or his interest in owning women).
And it’s forgiven. Not necessarily because it’s Vesta, but because her girlfriend is rich and powerful and the fate of the dead king’s planet rests in Vesta’s girlfriend’s hands. And there’s nothing wrong with that! It works in context with the rather cruel and fraught nature of the story, the cold and distant storytelling, and even the heavy weight of telling rather than showing … but all in all, I found it didn’t work for me. I appreciate the rich and intricate layered plotting (though I’m not a fan of a woman’s rape being the catalyst for the hero to have a character defining moment). I appreciate the feel and flavor of the worlds being consistent. I liked the ending. I even liked the ship designs in the back of the book. I just, personally, wanted more character moments to get to know Vesta as a person, not as a lean, mean, fighting machine.
There is an audience for this book, but I’m afraid it wasn’t me. If you’re a fan of action and intelligent, complex plots, you should consider giving this book a try.