Antigravity cows. That's three stars in the bag right there.
TL;DR: funny Space-Western with Angels and Demons. Read it on a day you're feeling grumpy, it'll perk you up.
And...for the rest of this review, please keep in mind that I am a Science Fiction reader first and foremost. And as a reader, I'm extremely critical of the majority of books in the romance genre - notwithstanding the hypocrisy of having written books that could purportedly belong to that sub-genre myself.
Angel doesn't suffer from the shortcomings of many of the other authors I've read in the genre - she writes very well, with strong emphasis on craft and a lilting "aww shucks" voice that goes down very nicely. Like Czech beer - refinement, without having to work for it. But on that note...
Angel Martinez is wasted on romance. And it's not because she does it poorly - I'd venture the opposite. She's wasted on romance because she does the Science Fiction so damn well, but we don't get enough of it because characters need to bone.
Her MCs do interact sweetly enough that I'm entertained. But the story falls into the same tropes that *all* romance falls into - boy meets boy, boy likes boy, obstacles, tears, passionate declamations, happily-ever-after (at least for now) etc. etc. So: Readers who enjoy light M/M will get exactly what they expect, and all is well. But it's not precisely up my alley.
Firefly. The Ship Who Sang. Douglas Adams. This book swoops into all these territories, lands with a light touch, then takes off again to the roar of the Brimstone's engines. Too soon, like the actual Brimstone (though in the book they're usually in mortal peril, so that's probably wise).
The MC, Shax, and his pilot Verin (too much Robert Jordan for me, I had to work to *not* picture Verin as a short, dumpy, Brown Ajah Aes'Sedai, but that's my own reader's baggage and no fault of Angel's descriptive talent) and their ship, the Brimstone, has a very Malcom Reynolds/Zoe/Serenity feel, except that Shax is far more vulnerable than Captain Mal, and Verin is grouchier than Zoe...Their ship's computer, the always-entertaining AI-in-drag feels like some of Helva's colleague-ships.
And then there's the angel-demon angle. It tastes like Good Omens - Shax, in moments, vibrates with Crowley-like glee, and Ness's apologies take on Aziraphale's cadences.
Space-western with demons and angels that doesn't take itself seriously? Hell yes. Pun not totally intended.
Which brings me to that last, fifth star that I couldn't give. Perhaps I'm throwing a tantrum because of what I *didn't* get, and really wanted: more of the good stuff.
More of the things I got a tantalizing glimpse of - the wistful and mischievous reminiscences of thievery Shax alludes to when he sorts through his box of pretties. The fascinating and strange history of Demons in Space. The planets, the world-building, the ships, the AI, the war. The smell of Amnesia, the corridors of the Brimstone, the vegetation-with-teeth on the cow-resupply planet. These very Sci-Fi touches were created, vividly, in a few sentences. *This* is where this book should have lived.
But then BOOM! we were back to sappy romance stuff. Gah! Even the Big-Baddies were un-baddified to serve the romantic outcome. I'd have preferred personality conflicts, character-assassinations, ship-board politics that *don't* serve the romantic plot, instead serving the true strengths of Angel's story. Example: Shax pisses off Ness and Verin simultaneously somehow, and they become allies in thwarting Shax's mania for risky deals.
I get the strange feelings I'm going to annoy a number of romance fans, and some friends, with this review. But all I can do is speak my version of the truth. It's a genre-preference thing, and the fact that I really want to get my teeth into more of Angel's writing.
To that purpose: I'm going to buy every one of the books in this series as they come out. I won't skip the mushy stuff, because the story demands that I don't, but I will make cow-like noises from time to time.