Review: Dark Horse – Michelle Diener

Review: Dark Horse – Michelle DienerDark Horse
by Michelle Diener
Series: Class 5 #1
Also in this series: Dark Deeds, Dark Minds
Publisher: Eclipse
Publication Date: June 15, 2015
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 382
Source: Kindle Unlimited

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Some secrets carry the weight of the world.

Rose McKenzie may be far from Earth with no way back, but she's made a powerful ally--a fellow prisoner with whom she's formed a strong bond. Sazo's an artificial intelligence. He's saved her from captivity and torture, but he's also put her in the middle of a conflict, leaving Rose with her loyalties divided.

Captain Dav Jallan doesn't know why he and his crew have stumbled across an almost legendary Class 5 battleship, but he's not going to complain. The only problem is, all its crew are dead, all except for one strange, new alien being.

She calls herself Rose. She seems small and harmless, but less and less about her story is adding up, and Dav has a bad feeling his crew, and maybe even the four planets, are in jeopardy. The Class 5's owners, the Tecran, look set to start a war to get it back and Dav suspects Rose isn't the only alien being who survived what happened on the Class 5. And whatever else is out there is playing its own games.

In this race for the truth, he's going to have to go against his leaders and trust the dark horse.


4 stars icon aliens m/f romance icon scifi icon

I’m not usually a fan of alien abduction books, but I originally picked this up back in 2020 and it was absolute brain catnip. Watching these characters “dealing with a crisis, wrapped in a disaster, surrounded by a mystery” was ridiculously fun, so when I heard the final book in the series was coming out, I decided to dive back in and read the whole thing.

Dav, captain of a Grih exploration ship, doesn’t know what to think when he encounters a Class 5 Tecran ship deep in Grih space, and he’s even more perplexed to board it to find most of the crew dead, along with signs they’ve violated the Sentient Beings Agreement – including kidnapping one very sentient human. Rose is relieved to be rescued and amazed at how similar the Grih are to humans, but she knows her acceptance is contingent on her keeping a promise to someone else. And negotiating the fine line of keeping that secret – along with an attraction to the kind captain – is even harder when it becomes clear her life is on the line.

“Iʼm the dark horse here.”
“Dark horse?” “The unknown entity. The mysterious stranger who no one has any information about, and could be either friend or foe.”

It’s hard not to root for Rose. By the time the book starts, she’s already been through a lot, not to mention the terror of escaping from the Tecran and then getting picked up by the Grih. But Rose is persistent and brave and above all not willing to put up with being treated badly by her supposed rescuers. I loved her determination and how it was still tempered with kindness. She’s a survivor, someone who understands that while she can’t always control her circumstances, she can control her reactions, and I absolutely loved that about her.

But not only is Rose dealing with the trauma from the Tecran while attempting to acclimate to Grih life, she’s also worried about her partner, Sazo, the AI from the Class 5 ship who befriended her and engineered her escape – along with the deaths of most of the Tecran crew. His need for revenge is certainly understandable after spending most of his short life enslaved by them, but Rose gently guides him towards developing his own morality without directly imposing her own on him. Her friendship with him – the fact that she has to explain how to be a friend to him – was one of the things that really captivated me. I’m absolute trash for morality chains, and platonic morality chains between a ridiculously sweet and smart heroine and a sociopathic homicidal AI? Gold.

Rose is always aware however that she’s keeping a potentially very dangerous and volatile secret from the Grih, and that only gets worse when she starts to get involved with Dav. While there’s definitely an instant attraction between Rose and Dav, their relationship grows slowly. Dav’s sweet and kind and incredibly supportive of Rose, but to be honest? I really think the romance was overshadowed by Rose’s relationship with Sazo.

“You shouldn’t have had to ask. It should have been offered. That it wasnʼt doesn’t reflect well on me or my crew.”
“I think we all had a lot on our minds yesterday.”
He gave a brief nod. “Your wellbeing should have been one of the things on mine.”
“I appreciate it, but I am happy to have control over my own wellbeing restored to me.”

Most of the Grih are fascinated by the first new advanced sentient species in hundreds of years, not to mention the fact that she looks like a smaller, rounder version of themselves. Plus, she can sing, something the mostly staccato-speaking Grih respect deeply, even if Rose considers herself a very mediocre singer for a human. For the most part, the Grih are deeply moral and kind, deeply distressed by what Rose has gone through and angered at the Tecran, but they still have their flaws. There’s a thread of bias that assumes she’s not as intelligent as they are, but it’s something most of them are embarrassed and apologetic about when Rose points it out.

There’s some definite eyebrow-raising occurrences (really? the Grih look like large spiky-haired space elves? and Rose learns the Grih language in a little over a month?), not to mention Rose never seems to really miss Earth or think much on anything that happened to her prior to her abduction. Plus, the villains are ridiculously easy to figure out. But the book is so engaging that it’s hard to care about that when Sazo is snarking at Rose or she’s dealing with another hilarious culture clash with the Grih.

Overall, despite some flaws, this is a ridiculously fun book and utter catnip for me.

Content notes: View Spoiler »

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