by Jessie Mihalik
Series: Starlight's Shadow #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: February 1, 2022
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The critically acclaimed author of Polaris Rising takes readers on an exciting journey with the start of her brand-new series about a female bounty hunter and the man who is her sworn enemy.
Octavia Zarola would do anything to keep her tiny, close-knit bounty hunting crew together—even if it means accepting a job from Torran Fletcher, a ruthless former general and her sworn enemy. When Torran offers her enough credits to not only keep her crew afloat but also hire someone to fix her ship, Tavi knows that she can’t refuse—no matter how much she’d like to.
With so much money on the line, Torran and his crew insist on joining the hunt. Tavi reluctantly agrees because while the handsome, stoic leader pushes all of her buttons—for both anger and desire—she’s endured worse, and the massive bonus payment he’s promised for a completed job is reason enough to shut up and deal.
But when they uncover a deeper plot that threatens the delicate peace between humans and Valoffs, Tavi suspects that Torran has been using her as the impetus for a new war. With the fate of her crew balanced on a knife’s edge, Tavi must decide where her loyalties lie—with the quiet Valoff who’s been lying to her, or with the human leaders who left her squad to die on the battlefield. And this time, she’s put her heart on the line.
I have basically two responses to a book I absolutely, ridiculously love. I either make tons of highlights because I just love every single line of prose, or I highlight almost nothing because I’m too caught up in the story. This book is definitely of the second variety. It also hits all of the right notes for me, with a focus on found family, a twisty plot, and just enough romance to keep my HEA-loving heart interested.
“I’m a bounty hunter. I hunt criminals and murderers; I don’t work for them.”
In the few years since the decades-spanning war between the Valovians and the Federated Human Planets ended, Tavi and the remainder of her squad have made a life as bounty hunters. Considering they’re not willing to take the morally grey missions, it keeps them fed – barely – so when a Valovian general offers a ridiculous amount of money for them to recover a missing item, they agree, despite having to enter Valovian space to find it. And while things get off to a rocky start, Torran and his crew seem like generally good people. But Tavi isn’t a fool, and she knows that Torran isn’t telling them the whole story. When the reality turns out to be even worse than they anticipated, will the consequences of their actions lead to a new war?
Hunting down the item is the focus of much of the twisty plot, but it takes about half of the book before Tavi and crew are able to start the job they’re hired for in earnest. Those pages aren’t wasted, though. They’re used to build the relationship between Tavi’s crew and the Volvians, to show us what kind of people Tavi and Torran are and all the rough edges the war has left on all of them. And while this book is full of enough action to warm my scifi-battle-loving heart, where it really excels is these character relationships. Through chores, binge-watching shows and communal meals, the two crews bond and figure out that while cultural differences can still trip them up, they’re a lot more similar than they thought. I especially loved the focus on food as a source of community, on how cooking is a form of care and how that care can form the basis of trust and (just maybe) love.
“If I needed help burying a body, Eli would silently grab a shovel and start digging while Kee erased all evidence of the crime.
I would do the same for them.”
As for the individual characters, I especially loved Tavi’s crew. Kee and Eli are polar opposites, with Kee being a rainbow-haired ray of sunshine while Eli’s the smoldering pessimist, but there’s no doubt they care deeply for each other even if they disagree. As for Luna, the fourth member of the crew? Well, Kee beat her out as my favorite, but just barely. Torran’s crew also had some interesting characters, but as the story is told solely from Tavi’s first person POV, we don’t get the same depth of familiarity with them as with her crew.
As for the romance, like the recovery plot, it’s extremely slow burn. After all, at the start of the book, they’re essentially mortal enemies, as both are considered heroes by their people and war criminals (at best) by the other’s. It takes a lot of work to build up the level of trust necessary to turn that into a believable HEA, and the author did that phenomenally well. Valovian culture has an interesting take on apologies, one that forces Tavi to confront some of her own issues, and there’s also a focus on consent that was seamless and quite sweet.
Overall, I adored this book, and I am beyond glad that the next in the series is coming out this year. This author gets better with every book and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!