I received this book for free from Tasty Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Star World Frontier #1
Published by indie author on May 26, 2016
Genres: Romance, Sci-Fi Romance, Science Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy
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RITA-winner Susan Grant is back with an all-new, stand-alone tale of two improbable lovers, their daring secret, and the gamble destined to alter the course of their worlds forever!
She was playing with fire...
Jemm Aves battles to keep her dreams alive on a dead-end world. Working for the mines by day, she’s a successful bajha player at night, disguised as a male to be allowed to compete in the colony’s dangerous underworld where club owners will go to extremes to retain the best players. Every win puts her one small step closer to her goal: saving enough to escape Barésh with her family. When a nobleman from one of the galaxy’s elite families recruits her to be a star player for his team, it's because he doesn't know her secret. Her ruse proves to be her most perilous game yet when it puts both their lives—and her heart—at risk.
Prince Charming he was not...
Prince Klark is eager to reverse his reputation as the black sheep of the Vedla clan, a family as famous for its wealth and power as it is for being a bastion of male-dominated tradition. If his bajha team can win the galactic title it would go a long way toward restoring the family honor that his misdeeds tarnished. He travels to Barésh to track down an amateur who’s risen to the top of the seedy world of street bajha, offering the commoner a chance of a lifetime: a way off that reeking space rock for good. But his new player comes with a scandalous secret that turns his plans and his beliefs upside down. He sets out to win a very different prize—his champion’s reluctant heart.
While I’ve heard of Susan Grant and her intergalactic romances before, I have never had the chance to read any of her work until just recently, with The Champion of Barésh, the first in her Star World Frontier series. And she lived up to the hype I’d heard and then some!
Evidently, The Champion of Barésh is a continuing saga of the rich Star World universe she created, and the book does reference previous novels as a matter of course. However, apart from making the reader aware that other stories have come before this one and are likely available for those who enjoy it (like me), this doesn’t affect its standalone status—had this been the author’s debut novel, I would’ve liked it just as much.
And let me get this straight: I liked it. A lot. No, the truth is, I quite loved The Champion of Barésh, and I have every confidence I’ll be rereading this book before the year is out. Because there was a lot to love about it.
First off, there’s Jemm Aves, who disguises herself as a man in order to play the warrior sport she loves and excels at, not just for love of the game but for the hope of advancing herself so her family can have a better life. She’s everything you’d want a romantic heroine and a sci-fi heroine to be: scrappy and street-savvy, a little rough around the edges but very obviously with a diamond quality that shines through from the very first chapter, and surprisingly circumspect and lacking in both arrogance and bravado, yet not at all lacking in confidence. She’s the perfect candidate to knock an entitled princeling off his pedestal.
Except that Klark Vedla is no pampered princeling. Sure and well, he’s lived in the lap of luxury his whole life, but he’s also been drilled on his responsibility to his family and the importance of the Vedla family honor. Poor decisions on his part have ensured that the Vedla clan’s reputation has taken a bit of a beating, but rather than being defensive or devil-may-care about it like you’d expect a prince from a conquering if benevolent clan to be, he regrets his actions, pays the consequences for them, and frankly admits to the rashness of his behavior. And given the chance at redemption in a player as skilled as Jemm, he risks his reputation and his heart to train her to be a formidable champion. Then, when things come apart, he risks everything to be at her side. How swoon-worthy is that?
On a briefer note, I’ll add that the feelings and circumstances surrounding Jemm and Klark are quite intense, not just because the chemistry between them is volatile and entirely combustible, but because of the issues that surround them. He is, effectively, her employer, and apart from the difference in power that places between them, he’s a prince, while she’s a commoner from one of the pits of the galaxy. Of course, all this makes for an even mightier fall. But the supporting characters of Jemm’s teammates and even a smarmy bar owner help to diffuse some of that intensity, offering enough levity to prevent this from being a heavy read.
Apart from the very engaging characters in this series, I also really appreciated the story of a woman breaking the glass ceiling on an intergalactic tradition, as well as the more personal story of family-fueled ambition fed by hard work and natural talent allowing a person to blaze a trail of glory through the minds and hearts of billions. There’s nothing subtle about the feminism in this story, and there are some pretty on-point statements about the state of things and how they need to change, so that’s something I can definitely applaud.
Truth be told, I couldn’t put down this The Champion of Barésh. And I can only be grateful I’ll be able to hunt up more stories from this universe while waiting for book 2 in the Star World Frontier series.
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