Reviewed by KJ Van Houten
This Tales from the Edge series was recently brought to my attention, so a quick jump over to Amazon to grab it showed that I bought both books of this 2-book series nearly a year ago – how had these gotten lost in my digital TBR pile? Especially for a series that has been compared to Firefly, one of my most favourite shows ever! Well, ok, that was probably part of the reason – am I the only one getting tired of seeing review after review of SFR books being compared to Firefly only to read them and find out that the similarity is usually a group of people…on a spaceship?
So it was with a bit of skepticism that I started reading. Imagine my surprise…a group of people…on a spaceship…but wait, this isn’t just any ship, this is a Mercy ship – a ship of paid companions who travel to mining colonies offering paid services…and an ex-military captain…and a ship’s mechanic that could have been my beloved Kaylee reincarnated! The atmosphere is a little gritty, too, as everything and everyone seems to be controlled by larger corporations or organizations, while even basic necessities like food, clothes, and even shipboard gravity come at a price. OK, this has been an oversimplification, but yeah, there are some valid comparisons this time.
In the Black seemed to start off a bit slow, the first 10% of the book was all about captain, Sam Kellar, hawking the wares of her Mercy ship: that is, giving a presentation to the people of a mining colony about the six courtesans offering “resources for your pleasure”. Then I realized I was still in chapter one! And that I had picked up quite a lot of information already about not only the courtesans, but also the captain herself. And can’t leave out the spaceship Bonnie Belle, controlled by an artificial intelligence that makes it seem as if it’s another character all of her own. (I kept envisioning a miniature Moya, the ship from Farscape, which really is a biological entity.)
In the Black really picks up quickly after that, as there’s this pesky murder that occurs, putting the Bonnie Belle and the mining colony on complete lockdown until Marshal Daniel LeClair arrives to investigate. Daniel is almost the epitome of an old-West marshal riding into town to save the day, even if he is riding his own AI spacecraft instead of a horse and is better represented by his leather jacket rather than a cowboy hat. But Sam can’t just wait, especially with demons from her previous military experience haunting her, and this quickly brings her into Daniel’s path when he arrives. Without more spoilers, just going to sum it up to say that the mystery is solved, the murderer is caught, and Sam and Daniel find they can’t resist each other.
The Bonnie Belle receives a distress call, and while Mercy ships are not equipped to provide aid or defense, Sam cannot resist helping. They arrive in time to watch a star yacht explode…with a single intact lifepod as part of the debris. Jenny, the mechanic, proves her creativity in finding a way to retrieve it.
Inside is Catherine Rogers, vice president of Global Transport, one of the largest builders of spaceships in the galaxy. She was on her way to a Justice base to provide testimony about largescale corruption she had uncovered within GT. Of course, this makes the explosion of her yacht suspicious and soon the Bonnie Belle and its crew, finds itself racing off to get Catherine to safety. Marshal Daniel LeClair is on his way to help, too, but it’s going to take days for his arrival even at top speed.
Meanwhile, Sean Harrison, one of the older courtesans onboard the Bonnie Belle, is tasked with watching over Catherine. Sean has some basic medic training, so he is the obvious choice to take care of the burns and bruises Catherine has suffered during her escape in the lifepod. Catherine has come aboard with a bad impression of Mercy ships and the people that serve on them thanks to a former cheating husband, but she quickly learns that not every ship or every courtesan is alike, and you can’t judge everyone from one bad experience.
Sean is quickly overcome by attraction to Catherine, coming to terms with the ghosts of his own past while trying to maintain professionalism and emotional distance. As Catherine works out her feelings about the Mercy ship, its crew, and especially those growing emotions between her and Sean, someone is trying to finish what they had started: kill her. Everyone on the Bonnie Belle is now in danger because they provided her aid, so the crew has to quickly come together to defend themselves – and each other – as they face assassination attempts, a bounty placed on Catherine’s life, and an invasion by mercenaries.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading both In the Black and In the Void, along with an extremely, all-too-short, more-of-a-blurb-than-a-story piece called Interlude that comprise the Tales from the Edge. The series has a lot of action, a lot of attraction, and some nice romance.
The steam level of this series is surprisingly low. You’d think that a series based on a spaceship full of people selling sexual favours would be pretty steamy, but no, not here. Oh, there are a lot of references to sex, a lot of innuendo, a lot of flirtation, and yes, at some point our heroes and heroines do get down to consummating their relationships, but it’s not shown in much detail.
This isn’t so much a story about workers in the sex trade, but rather about a group of people who have found themselves together in an unusual and probably unexpected setting trying to not only survive, but make life a little better. They provide care and spread happiness when they can, but are not afraid to call upon unexpected abilities and resources, not to mention backbones of steel, when needed. It’s about people coming together to help each other deal not only with current crises, but also to come to terms with their pasts. The ending of each story seems more of a happy-for-now than a true happy-ever-after, but I think the HEAs are implied.
So why 4 stars instead of 5? I’m on the fence, so maybe I should say 4.5 stars. I enjoyed the stories, but both stories each felt a little rushed in places, particularly the endings. And the mystery of In the Black was a bit predictable. Also, there seemed to be some incompleteness. A lot of details throughout each story brings up questions that don’t get answered. Maybe if the author had written more books in the series some of this would have been cleared up.
There is a lot of interaction with the Guild, the organization that controls the Mercy ships and the people that serve on them, but there is a lot of mystery left untold about it. Some hints the Guild may have its hands in a larger scheme, which almost makes the characters we’ve met seem pawns in a larger game.
There are also a lot of questions about who, and what organizations and corporations, can be trusted. In addition to the Guild, there is the UNS, which is the galactic enforcement agency Daniel works for. Are there multiple levels of corruption spread throughout the UNS and Guild, maybe even tying them together?
Plus, we see a lot of hints about the backgrounds of the Bonnie Belle’s crew that leave me wanting more. Who is Kendra, the courtesan that seems to be the ‘mother hen’ of the group and why does she seem to have a grasp of the larger picture? Then there’s April, a deadly domme with defense skills that even a soldier would dream about. And Jenny, the sweet, seemingly-innocent mechanic who has surprising resources both on and off the ship and a creative mind that shouldn’t be restricted to just keeping the Bonnie Belle in working order. And then there is the Bonnie Bell herself, an AI-enhanced ship that seems to have emotions and a capacity for out-of-the-box thinking beyond what a simple AI should have. And who, really, does she answer, to – the captain, the crew, the Guild? Or just herself?
Bottomline: Read this series! Back-to-back if you can. Read in order, too, because there is a lot of background and world-building in In the Black that you will be missing if you only try to read In the Void. Just for personal reasons, I probably enjoyed In the Black the most. The interaction and flirtation between Sam and Daniel felt far more intense that anything steamy I’ve read in a while.
About the Books
In the Black
When Sam Keller left the military, she ran to the far end of the galaxy. Now she captains the Bonnie Belle, a spaceship full of courtesans who bring a little pleasure to hard-up men on mining colonies. When one of her girls turns up dead, it’s Sam’s job to find out who killed her, fast.
Marshal Daniel LeClair is as tough as steel and quick on the draw. But when his vacation gets replaced by an assignment to help find the killer, he can’t help angling for a little action with the saucy, hard-charging Sam. She’s got brains, attitude and a body he wouldn’t mind investigating.
Sam, six months lonely, might just indulge him. But the Guild that owns theBelle wants the case closed yesterday. With pressure coming from all quadrants, Sam and her marshal clash over false leads and who’s on top. But when the killer threatens the Belle again, romance will have to wait. It’s a captain’s job to save her crew, no matter the cost.
In the Void
Catherine Rodgers doesn’t like Mercy spaceships, or the courtesans who work on them—not after her husband left her for a Mercy woman. But after her luxurious transport ship gets blown up to prevent her from cracking the lid off a corporate scam that’s left hundreds dead and a few people very rich, the only vessel around to save her is the Bonnie Belle.
Sean Harrison has worked as one of the Belle’s courtesans for years, bringing happiness to countless women along the space lanes. When he’s asked to look after Catherine while the Belle brings her to safety, it should be just another job. Somehow it’s anything but.
Sean is captivated by Catherine’s sense of justice and responsibility. And Catherine finds a softer, more emotionally intelligent man in Sean than she expected. Drawn together in darkness under the threat of death, they find the beginning of something lasting. But with pirates after the Belle and a price on Catherine’s head, that beginning might be all they get.
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About the Author
Sheryl Nantus was born in Montreal, Canada and grew up in Toronto, Canada. A rabid reader almost from birth, she attended Sheridan College in Oakville, graduating in 1984 in Media Arts Writing.
She met Martin Nantus through the online fanfiction community in 1993 and moved to the United States in 2000 in order to marry. A firm believer in the healing properties of peppermint tea and chai she continues to write short stories and novels while searching for the perfect cuppa.
She loves to play board games and write haiku, although not usually at the same time. Her and her husband have attended the Origins Game Fair for over a decade, most recently as members of the Library, the GAMA-sponsored literary area.
She has published multiple books with Samhain Publishing and Carina Press. In 2011 she won two second-place Prism Awards from the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of RWA for her steampunk romance, “Wild Cards and Iron Horses” and the first volume of her superhero romance trilogy, “Blaze of Glory”. In 2013 she won a third-place Prism Award for her paranormal romance, “Blood of the Pride“.
Find Sheryl Nantus at her website: http://sherylnantus.com/