Review: Games of Command, Linnea Sinclair

My Take in Brief: A lovesick cyborg hero, an intelligent and fun heroine with a secret past, and great worldbuilding and plotting made this a real pleasure. While the secondary romance and some big unexplored questions detracted from the overall experience, I would recommend this one to anybody who enjoys an action packed space romance, and will certainly be reading more from Ms. Sinclair.

Series? : No.

Setting: Future space. There’s a lot of time on board ships of various sizes, with some scenes “dirtside” and some in a mysterious void.

Hero and Heroine: Triad Admiral Branden Kel-Paten, artificially enhanced for extra intelligence, speed, endurance, strength, firepower, and the ability to plug in to other computers through a port in his wrist, is a company man all the way, loyal to his superiors and devoted to the cause. Despite being programmed to have no emotions except anger, he has been in love with Captain Tasha Sebastian for years. Tasha is uninhibited, funloving, shortcut taking and rule breaking. She is also, unbeknownst to Kel-Paten, a former smuggler called Lady Sass.

Plot: There’s a lot going on, but mainly, this is the story of Branden coming to grips with his feelings for Tasha, and Tasha coming to love Branden, against the backdrop of two threats: political, in the form of a faction within the Triad which hopes to undermine the fragile Alliance, and metaphysical, in the form of an unknown evil presence, on board their ships and in their minds. There’s a secondary romance involving Tasha’s best friend, empathic Chief Medical Officer Eden Fynn, and telepathic rakish prisoner Jace Serafino.

Distinctive Features: Coming from a romance point of view, the fact that the hero is head over heels for the heroine, while she’s a footloose relationship-phobe, is pretty unique.

Fun Factoids: GOC was a RITA award finalist for 2008 Paranormal category (the winner was Lover Revealed by JR Ward) and a 2007 P.E.A.R.L. award winner for Best Sci Fi Fantasy. Also, Games of Command is a reworking/extension of two books (novellas?) – the previously published Command Performance (Jace and Eden’s story), and the unpublished Command Decision (Kel-Paten and Sass’s story).

Word on the Web

Dear Author, Janine, B+

The Romance Reader, Wendy, 4 hearts

Rosario, A-

Ciara Stewart, 5 hearts

AAR, Jeanne W, A-

Amazon.com, 4.5 stars after 21 reviews

The Racy Romance Review:

I knew this book was good when I wasn’t turned completely off by the realization that a portion of it was going to be told from the point of view of the heroines’ cute furry pets, the furzels. Normally, I would hate that sort of thing, but Sinclair managed to make Reilly and Tank cute without being cloying, and actually made them believably important to the action.

You can link to any of the other reviews above to get more on plot. The TRR review is particularly concise and lucid on that score. I did feel like I entered a series in the middle, never sure whether a proper noun referred to a political body, a species, or a planet.  But in this review I’m going to focus on what jumped out at me:

Like everyone who has read this book, I loved the hero, who is truly heroic: self-sacrificing, altruistic, noble. In his teens, he became a Biocybe, cybernetically enhanced, and while a few of you with dirty minds might be thinking about the sexual possibilities, in fact his cyborg nature detracts considerably from his attractiveness, not just because he’s not supposed to feel emotions, but because of widespread prejudice against humans of his altered state.

Branden can actually feel emotions when he lowers his psychic shields, and he’s hopelessly in love with the Captain he met years ago and has now arranged to have on his ship. The scenes when he tries to have a friendly conversation with his subordinate (flirting is way beyond his abilities) are heartbreaking. The dynamic is a little bit like the nice but oblivious popular girl and the nerd (think Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker).  Branden is the type of hero that makes the reader want to reach into the book and give him a hug. You want desperately for him to be loved as he deserves, and the emotional payoff when it happens is hugely satisfying, easily the best part of the book for this reader.

We discover that Branden became a Biocybe in his late teens, but never why or how. This was a backstory I would have loved to read. I had other questions about how he functioned as a cyborg that interfered with my immersion in the story. We are told he is programmed to feel only one emotion, anger, but he feels many more, including shame, love, lust and others. The explanation is that Branden has managed to keep a part of his mind separate from Psy-Serv programming. That worked for me, but why and how did he do it? Why not go Psy Serv all the way? What, besides love of Tasha, motivates him?

An intriguing issue for me was the question of trust. Tasha is not sure she can trust Branden because he is a loyal Triad admiral. But she is also mistrustful of him for a super interesting reason: because Psy-Serv can control his mind when he jacks in to the ship computers. She wonders whether he is feeling things because he has been “programmed” to.  What’s “him” and what’s “machine”? She comes to trust his feelings, of course, but more based on intuition than in coming to understand his mental processes.

Despite their limited screen time, as a reader I was very invested in Branden and Tasha. In fact, there’s a moment in this book when Tasha says something to Branden that is so hurtful, that it has inspired me to make a list of the most heartbreaking moments in romance (stay tuned).

Tasha is just as likable and admirable as Branden. She’s more impulsive, intuitive, emotional, and social, but also goodhearted and heroic. It’s not clear why she went from outlaw to dutiful soldier. I felt almost as if I had missed the first book in the series. Tasha’s past, as far as her character went, was very much “ancient history”, its only significance being the worry that the Branden would discover it.

Tasha’s friend Eden, the intelligent doctor, is also a very good person, her empathic abilities enhancing her ability to tend the sick. She is more reserved and plays more by the rules. The appearance of prisoner Jace throws her off when she discovers she can meet him in a secret mental place. A Psy-Serv implant, designed to harness Jace’s telepathic abilities, has divided him into a flirty devil-may-care rake in person, but a sensitive loving soul in the mental realm where he meets Eden. The intriguing possibilities of dealing with the two Serafinos were not explored at any length, unfortunately, and they fell in love at first mental touch.

The book is like a romance in that it’s pretty focused on the four main characters. We don’t have a parade of shipmates or many other identifiable secondary characters. However, there is so much action and mystery that the two couples don’t spend a lot of time falling in love. Many of their conversations involve trying to get out of jams and figuring out who the bad guys are. There’s nothing at all wrong with this, but it made me think of this as more of an SFF book than a straight romance. It’s funny: I recently read Grimspace by Ann Aguirre, which is labeled SF. Games of Command is labeled “romance”. I would have reversed those labels, I think, if I were the God of Publishing.  When I think about why, it has to do with the fact that none of the 4 characters in GOC changes much: they start out being really good people you root for, and that’s how they end. I guess when I think of romance, I think of the h/h altering each other, filling in each other’s missing pieces, and making each other better people. I didn’t see that happening in GOC.

While I wish the gaps had been filled in, I did enjoy this one very much. I think it’s worth reading just for the hero, but there is a lot more on offer, including great world building, intense mystery, and a stable of characters to root for. It will definitely not be my last read by this author.

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Published in: on October 25, 2008 at 10:24 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like Sinclair’s novels for her heroines. They are all capable at what they do. Sinclair’s stories (so far) are rather fast-paced and action-oriented, so “trying to get out of jams” is a constant element of them. Sometimes I think the pace is a bit relentless in a “there’s hardly any break for the characters” sense, but it sure is never boring.

    My old copy of Gabriel’s Ghost (Bantam, 2005) has “science fiction” on the book spine, not “romance.” I don’t know about the new editions, but the covers look more “romance” than the old covers, IMO.

    Nice review.

  2. “when I think of romance, I think of the h/h altering each other, filling in each other’s missing pieces, and making each other better people.”

    I love how you nail things like this. Great review.

  3. This was a great review. I have this book and I think you nailed it also. 🙂

  4. Carolyn Jean and Sarah,

    Thanks for the agreement! Always gratifying. And Sarah, thanks for visiting.

    Taja,

    It’s interesting that the old covers were different. I think Gabriel’s Ghost will be the next Sinclair I read. I didn’t want to read it first becasue I had just read Grimspace and the plot looked somewhat similar.

    I agree with you about her heroines, at least the one I read about. Tasha was free of handwringing internal conflict, strong, and capable. I really liked her.

  5. I loved this book and Branden just about broke my heart. So I’m looking forward to your post on that topic *g*. And I also think that Linnea Sinclair also writes great heroines too!
    I know she has mentioned in the past that she would love to write another one with these characters but so far her publisher isn’t interested.
    Also – I don’t know if I can find it, but somewhere she does have like a chapter on Branden’s childhood and how he came to be half robot. Very good and leads to more heartbreak for this poor guy.

  6. Yay,being a Linnea Sinclair fangirl I am delighted that you liked GoC.
    I believe though that Linnea sees herself as a Sci-Fi romance writer – and all of her books are well balanced in this aspect.

    next, you should read Gabriel’s Ghost. Or The Down Home Zombie Blues (don’t you just love the title?) .

  7. Kristie(j) — I will have to track that chapter down. thanks for letting me know it exists!

    Ana — I really liked it, and I will definitely be reading both GG and DHZB. It was you who first recommended Sinclair to me, so THANK YOU!!


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