A great series starter…
I’ve been hooked by Jennifer Estep’s books since I read the first two lines of her first Crown of Shards book, Kill the Queen: “The day of the royal massacre started out like any other. With me doing something completely, utterly useless.” How can you not keep reading a book after that?
So I was amused to read recently in her blog that she likes coming up with great openings. (See here on her website.) Thus it’s not surprising that her most recent book starts out with a kick too: “Sometimes in life, you have only bad options. Like planning to commit corporate espionage in the morning, becoming a whistle blower by noon, and trying not to be murdered by midnight.”
And the heroine and hero, Vesper Quill and Kyrion Caldaren, do spend most of the book with only bad options. In true space opera style, though, they manage to make the best of them. As the story starts, Vesper is, as mentioned above, getting ready to be a whistle blower – to disclose the true cause of the recent crash of the first of the new generation of Kent Corporation spaceships. She’s discovered that there’s a major design flaw in the ship’s control system, and it wasn’t just pilot error as the Kent higher-ups are claiming. Her plan is pretty simple: download the proof, give it to a prominent gossip site to publicize, take the money the site offered her, and start fresh somewhere else. Of course, if things worked according to plan, there wouldn’t be much of a tale to tell.
Instead, Vesper gets busted in the attempt and is sent away by the Kent family to die as a conscript – to be cannon fodder in an upcoming battle between the Imperium and the Techwave. But she meets Kyrion just before the shooting gets going, they save each other’s lives on the battlefield, and their roller-coaster ride is underway. As the book progresses, Vesper figures out more and more about her supposedly minimal magical skills, while she and Kyrion learn more about each other’s pasts and fight their growing – and maybe even somewhat magical – mutual attraction. In the end, of course, after many trials and tribulations, the minor baddies get their due, bringing a nice conclusion to the immediate story. But the major bad guy is still around, and there are enough other hints and open questions to make readers wish the next book were available NOW.
Estep’s world building is engaging and believable (as much as space opera can be believable), with the Imperium running on magic, the Techwave relying on cutting-edge technology, and the Erzton trying to maintain a neutral stance, selling materials to both of the others. The characters are properly sympathetic or villainous, the writing is crisp and the story is just plain fun. So all-in-all, Only Bad Options is a great read, and I hope the next book in the series shows up soon!