Pandora's Box

The Star King

Susan Grant
2000, Science Fiction Romance
LoveSpell, $6.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 0505524139
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

In Susan Grant's The Star King, Air Force fighter pilot Jasmine Boswell is shot from the sky over Saudi Arabia and plunged into a dreamscape environment with a mysterious man who reaches out and touches her very soul. Meeting him 20 years later brings surprises that take Jasmine from the desert of Arizona to the most alien outposts of the universe.

Linda:   Blythe, this story was a rip-roaring, romantic genre bender. I just loved it! This is only Susan Grant's second book and what a find I think she is. The Star King starts out with a female fighter pilot's downing in Saudi Arabia. While unconscious, she has what she thinks is a dream about another pilot in a futuristic dreamscape. The story then shifts 19 years and I suddenly realized that our heroine is 43-45 years old - yes - this was truly wonderful and so unexpected. Since you are younger then me, and who isn't <g>, maybe it didn't thrill you as much as it did me?

Blythe:   Well, I thought it was well-written, but I wasn't thrilled. It wasn't that I didn't like the story or the age of the characters - it was more that futuristics just aren't my cup of tea, and The Star King didn't change my mind about that. In a way my reaction was kind of similar to my reaction to the Fobes book, Daughter of Destiny, because I thought the book was all about the SF setting, rather than the romance.

Linda:   I liked the setting and thought it very imaginative. I especially liked the reaction to the arrival of the aliens in the U.S., probably much like what would happen if (or when) they really come. But, I thought Grant kept sight of the romance amidst all of the action/adventure. The alien, Rom, is a truly wonderful hero. Rom's actions are often truly heroic, but he is troubled enough to be interesting.

I loved Jasmine; what a gutsy lady! I loved the fact that she grabbed her fate in her hands and bamboozled her way onto the space ship for a journey to far away places. There is lots of action but the family and romantic elements never get lost in the plot machinations. I also liked the fact that Grant didn't go overboard with cutesy names or complex technology, which is often what turns me off about SF or futuristic romances.

Blythe:   I also liked the way Jasmine brazened her way onto the ship, and I liked that she was a fighter pilot. I thought she was probably the best character in the book - she's mature, sexy, smart, and funny.

I think fans of adventure will like it, because there is plenty of it to be had. It's pretty much non-stop action. There is also quite a bit of humor. . .didn't you love some of the names she gave to characters, and, in particular, the name of Rom's bodyguard?

Linda:   Yes, Grant has a sly sense of humor, but she never goes too far. She knows when enough's enough and stops. Too often authors are heavy-handed with this type of humor and instead of using a teaspoon they ladle it on. My favorite part was Rom loving Jasmine's stretch marks - every woman over a certain age would love this guy. I liked the giant snails too. I hate snails but there was something so absurd about riding and then making love on the back of one that it made me LOL. Again, Grant using imagination and humor with a deft hand.

I agree with you completely about Jasmine; she was a strong heroine and not conventional for a romance novel. When is the last time you read about a 40-ish, divorced mother of two grown children? Different and wonderful choices by Grant that created for us a very interesting character. Even when Jas needs to be rescued, she takes the steps necessary to facilitate it. Rom is a wonderful hero, but he's more conventional in genre terms, even if he is an alien.

Blythe:   Hey, I did like that Rom found stretch marks sexy. If you're going to have a fantasy hero, you might as well go all the way with it! But Rom was also at the root of my problems with the book. It's not that Rom isn't likable, because he is. But I had a really hard time picturing him as a sexy hero. It started off with his name, which he shares with a Ferengi from Star Trek (Deep Space 9). Since Rom's species also revered trade, which is a Ferengi hallmark, it solidified the connection in my mind. Eventually I did stop picturing Rom with giant ears and a whiny voice, but I still couldn't find him appealing.

I know at least part of it was his clothes. He was always wearing a tunic (which to me is about the least sexy word in the world) or some silk outfit that sounded like jammies. Maybe it's just me, but I really need to picture a guy in buff breaches, jeans, or a suit. Tunics just don't do it for me. I think that's one reason why SF romances and futuristics aren't my fantasy of choice. I feel like I should like them since I love Star Trek, but for some reason the future isn't a romantic period for me.

Linda:   LOL, I have never liked Star Trek so I didn't get the Rom connection; I think I'm glad <g>. The image I had in my mind as I read was Harrison Ford as Han Solo - Rom's description sounded much like him and he had the rebel nature as well. Rom is a resourceful man. Even though he'd been disowned by his family, he found a way to flourish on the edges of the frontier. I really liked him a lot - he's such an honorable man.

This book had me on the edge of my seat (well the bed anyway) trying to read faster to find out what happens next. It's a quick, fun read and I was in constant admiration of Grant's choices. Every time that I was afraid she'd opt for one of the oft used plot devices, read Big Misunderstanding here, she changed directions and had the couple actually talk to each other. To have a mature couple who actually talk to each other for protagonists shouldn't be that unusual in a romance novel, but sadly it is. This book almost defies genre labeling, it has elements of a time travel, futuristic and SF and yet still manages to be very much a romance with two characters who are interesting and includes a deft use of humor. I'm going to go and get her first book out of my TBR pile.

Blythe:   I wish I'd been picturing Rom like Harrison Ford.<g> I guess I should also backtrack a bit and point out that while I have been referring to this book as a futuristic, it really takes place in the present. Perhaps SF/romance would be a better title.

I think one thing that many will appreciate about this book is that almost all the conflict is external. Jas and Rom do have their personal problems to resolve, but as you say there aren't any big misunderstandings. I did think Jas was kind of stupid to go off alone with Beela, though. Surely as a mom she taught her kids not to take rides from strangers!

Linda:   I think Jas was a bit disoriented by the mugging and trusted the wrong person. She didn't take long to figure out what was up though, and immediately set out to defeat her captors. This is a resourceful and bright woman. As you say, the conflict is external, which happens to make for my favorite type of romance. I really like to see the couple bond, and then work together to defeat a common enemy or achieve a common goal. I especially liked the fact that Rom leveled with Jas near the beginning that her "dream" was real and he didn't brood about her "pretending" not to recognize him or blame and punish her because he thinks she ruined his life. I have wracked my brain and can't think of having read any other romances with a similar heroine. She may be mid-40's but, this woman is sexy, vital and believable. Since the hero was also mid-40's it was nice to see him with someone his own age, instead of the usual early to mid-20's heroine.

Blythe:   I also liked that the heroine was older. Sometimes it's nice to read about a couple getting a second chance at love. And if you're going to have a second chance at love, you might as well go for an intergalactic sex symbol! But at the end I was more charmed by the setting and the humor rather than the romance.

Linda:   I think it all worked for me. I loved the couple and the humor was a nice bonus. And I thought the setting and storyline very innovative. This book deserves to find an audience beyond genre lines. Grant's book in some ways remind me of Catherine Asaro's The Veiled Web, which contained elements of SF, adventure and romance. Plus, I felt that even amidst the non-stop action, Grant never lost track of the romance.

Blythe:   SF just isn't my thing. I know some people enjoy all kinds of books within the genre, but it took me forever even to try contemporaries. But I really do think that those who enjoy SF and futuristics will like this more than I did. It's fast-paced and well written. If Grant were to write a contemporary or historical I would probably be more likely to try it than another sci-fi. Maybe her first book, Once a Pirate, would be a better match for me.

Linda:   Once a Pirate also features a fighter pilot heroine. I'm really open to all kinds of stories within the genre, if they are well told - except perhaps for the angsty, tortured hero, tear-jerker. I usually hate those no matter how well-written. This book was an adventurous love story that could have been set in a purely contemporary environment, but I thought that the introduction of the ET's gave it a unique twist. Since many online readers are clamoring for something different, I think this book deserves to be a big hit. I will definitely be watching for her books in the future, especially for the sequel which I understand will be about Jas's son Ian. Since he and Rom clicked so well, it will be interesting to see what kind of adventures this inter-galactic family will have.

What are we reading next month, Blythe?

Blythe:   Next month is Julia Quinn's The Viscount Who Loved Me, which is the sequel to The Duke and I. I've read all of Quinn's books and enjoyed them all to one degree or another, so I'm really looking forward to this one.

Linda:   I have only read one of Quinn's books, How to Marry A Marquis, and even though it was granted Desert Isle Keeper Status, I thought the heroine a bit of an airhead, so I hope I like this one better. It would be a switch to have you like one better than I did wouldn't it?

Blythe:   Since How to Marry a Marquis is one of my favorite books by Quinn, next month should be interesting for sure! Goodbye until then.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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