Ilsa’s talent for hacking and Kai’s people skills make them experts at following a cold scent, and they’ve built a successful business on finding things. But when Eleazar Dantes offers them double the usual fee if he can accompany them across the galaxy in their search for his daughter, they find themselves in unknown territory – professionally and personally.
Let’s get straight to the point: Open Skies suffers from some clunky prose (especially in the opening chapter), flimsy characters and a plot with less pace and suspense than a supermarket shopping trip.
This last threw me most. The prose warmed up and the characters weren’t unbearable, but this is billed as a mystery/thriller. It’s got classic elements: the businessman stood accused (and cleared) of murdering his wife; the sister-in-law who had a hand in the accusation and possibly the murder; and the vanished daughter. We’ve got murky back story, uncertain motives and a family feud.
Unfortunately, this is barely explored or exploited. Instead, the narrative takes a slow slog across star systems following digital footprints left in spite of Miss Dantes’s best efforts to conceal her trail. And honestly? While the galaxy-building (Impressionist sketches of aliens, dirty mining ports, cramped commercial vessels) provided a backdrop that could have been interesting it if had been more than transient scenery, there was more time spent detailing their sleeping accommodations.
All this combined to make the nominal plot seem like nothing more than window dressing for the main event: Kai’s simmering feelings for his all-business partner Ilsa. Even the action sequence (an attempted assassination of their client) focused mostly on how they responded to one another’s peril.
This is part of the Solitary Travellers series, but there’d been enough ambiguity (and focus on Kai’s feelings) that I found myself wondering if I’d misunderstood or misread that this was a novel featuring an asexual/aromantic protagonist. [SPOILER (mouse over to read)]Much to my delight, Ilsa makes it abundantly clear that she’s not interested – in Kai or anyone else. Kai (predictably) says all the wrong things as he tries to rationalize her rejection. I have nothing but sympathy for Ilsa and I’m delighted to see an asexual/aromantic heroine rather than one who belatedly realizes she’s been repressing / self-rejecting her sexy-hot partner for years. Her rage was credible and affecting, and I appreciated that Kleinn spelled out that being aromantic doesn’t make Ilsa unemotional – love doesn’t have to mean romantic love. However, this isn’t enough to redeem the rest of the work for me.
In a nutshell: this feels like an early draft that would benefit from more work to flesh it out and better interweave the twin storylines. At the moment there’s not enough groundwork in place to pack the punch the story needs, and the mystery is too flimsy.
I received a copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Open Skies is released on March 23rd, as part of Solitary Travellers – a series of stand-alone books from Less than Three Press featuring aromantic and asexual main characters.