October 23, 2022

Review: Only Bad Options

Only Bad Options Only Bad Options by Jennifer Estep
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure about this book when I started it. It's a space opera that didn't seem to be breaking any new ground, and in the beginning the protagonist veered perilously close to being Too Stupid To Live:

I knew I should keep quiet, but the smart show-off and smug know-it-all inside me just couldn't stop the words from pouring out of my mouth. "Actually, the ship crashed because of an error in the navigation system. One of the sensors below the observation deck windows is unusually sensitive to laser scans, blaster and cannon fire, and other similar bright pulses of light, heat, and power."

Rowena gave me an encouraging nod. "And?"

Once again, I couldn't stop talking. "And whenever light, heat, or power hits this particular sensor, the navigation system wrongly interprets it as a solar flare and reacts accordingly."

I thought, Really? and nearly threw the book against the wall. But I stuck with it, and gradually the characters started to grow on me. This quote is from one of the Vesper Quill chapters, the first of two primary and POV characters. The other is Kyrion Caldaren, her antagonist/enemy/turned possible boyfriend, the Arrow or war leader and assassin of the galactic Emperor, Callus Holloway.

Still, this book and series didn't and won't break any new ground. It feels like a space opera from decades ago, cribbing an awful lot from Star Wars (I mean, the "stormswords" that bond to psions are just a fancy-shmancy version of lightsabers and Jedi) and dealing in concepts--people with psi powers: telepathy, telekinesis, precognition and the like, which are a vital part of the plot--that have fallen out of favor in the genre. Maybe this is the author's "book of the heart," according to the acknowledgments, but perhaps she should have read a little more in the field to see what space opera is today. For example, any of the works of Adrian Tchaikovsky, especially the Final Architecture series, blows this out of the water.

Having said all that, I finished it and didn't dislike it. As I indicated, the characters grew on me, particularly after Vesper's first few (very rough) chapters as her backstory came to light and she started acting a little bit smarter. When Kyrion started narrating his chapters, that smoothed the story out more. These are two damaged people who are unwittingly yoked together through a psychic "truebond." Vesper is attempting to bring to light a conspiracy surrounding the crash of the spaceship Velorum, and Kyrion is trying to stay alive in the cutthroat court of the Emperor. The unexpected and unwelcome forming of the truebond means they are forced to work together, and Vesper is dragged into the world of the tyrannical Emperor Holloway and his backstabbing Regals.

Again, this is well-worn and familiar territory, but the characters are engaging and the plot is entertaining enough to keep you occupied for a while. This won't win any awards, but at the end I didn't feel like throwing it against the wall any longer. I suppose that is a triumph in itself.

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