Relaunch Mission (The Galactic Cold War #1) by Robyn Bachar

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Living mission to mission on the fringes of civilized space, Captain Lindana Nyota has managed to keep her crew paid and her ship in one piece. Barely. The privateer’s life of stealing Soviet supplies for the Alliance is taking its toll on everyone. Down a crew member, she now has to take on a new intel officer and hope it’s someone she can trust.

Lieutenant Gabriel Steele knew Lindy wasn’t expecting him to walk out of the air lock and back into her life, but he didn’t think he’d get his nose broken. As an intelligence agent for the Alliance, Gabriel has spent his career in deep cover, his sense of self crushed under layers of deceit—starting with the lies he had to tell Lindy years ago when he left her. A fresh start is all he wants, but the Alliance and his secret orders have already jeopardized that.

When an infamous pirate and friend of Lindy and her crew is reported alive and in possession of knowledge of a powerful Soviet weapon, finding her before the enemy does is paramount. But Gabriel can’t do it without regaining Lindy’s trust—and hopefully rekindling what he once sacrificed in the name of duty.

Rating: B-

This is the first in Robyn Bachar’s new Galactic Cold War series of science-fiction romances, and when I saw it touted as  ‘Firefly meets James Bond’  I couldn’t resist!

Set in a future in which the Cold War never ended, the story features the crew of the privateer ship Mombasa as it operates on the fringes of known space carrying out missions for the United Alliance of Democratic Nations – which mostly consist of raiding Soviet ships for supplies.  Captain Lindana Nyota and her tightly knit band of officers live a difficult existence; times are hard, their ship is in dire need of parts and repairs, and their last few jobs have gone badly wrong, resulting in the deaths of two crew members to whom Lindana was particularly close.

One of those people was the ship’s intelligence officer, and it’s imperative to their continued operation that they obtain a new one as soon as possible.  Arriving at the neutral  Tortue Station, Lindana is shocked and more than a little pissed off to discover that her new crew member is Lieutenant Gabriel Steele, the man who broke her heart fifteen years ago.

(As an aside, I had to chuckle a little at the description of Gabriel – he’s gorgeous, British, upper class, well-dressed and from a posh family… basically, he’s a space-duke 😉  It seems there’s no getting away from ‘em in romance – even in outer space!)

Not only is Lindana furious at the idea of having to work with the bastard who betrayed her so cruelly, she’s furious at herself for the fact that even after so many years, Gabriel still makes her feel things nobody else ever has.  Unfortunately, she has little choice but to agree to his appointment – but she doesn’t have to like it.

For the past fifteen years Gabriel  has worked as an intelligence officer (spy) for the Alliance, but that life has begun to pall and he’s tired of living a lie.  He requested the posting to the Mombasa because he wanted to see Lindana again and try to make things right, but he then receives orders to track down the Soviet spy responsible for the ship’s recent run of bad luck.  And of course, he’s not authorised to share that information with anyone – even Lindana – which pretty much puts paid to his idea of regaining her trust and asking if they can make a fresh start.

The story is action-packed and fast-paced, and Ms. Bachar packs a lot into a fairly small page count.  If anything suffers, it’s the romance – which is fairly perfunctory – but all the other elements of the story – the setting, the background, the action – are well done and kept me engrossed and entertained.   The political shenanigans between the Alliance, the Soviets and the breakaway Core Colonies Collective (C3) are clearly explained, and in a way that adds information at relevant times so there’s no feeling that you’re being subjected to an info-dump; the plotline is complex without being unintelligible and the author ramps the tension up nicely in the later chapters, when the crew of the Mombasa is on the trail of a ‘super weapon’ developed by the Soviets and beset by betrayal from their own side.

The two central characters are engaging; Lindy is a competent, kick-ass heroine and Gabriel is a useful guy to have around (and is capable of much more than he lets on).  They are a good match but the romance, such as it is, is secondary to the rest of the plot.  Lindy and Gabriel meet again after fifteen years, exchange insults, banter a bit, talk properly and clear the air, then end up in bed – and that’s more or less it, although the author has created a nicely bubbling undercurrent of sexual tension between them.

The other crew members we meet here are characterised using fairly broad brush strokes; they all have roles to play and the author creates a real sense of camaraderie among them. They’re likeable and maybe a bit stereotypical, especially to anyone familiar with the genre – although we are told that Tomas, Lindy’s brother  (the ship’s doctor), suffers from PTSD as a result of his experiences in the recent rebellion, so perhaps that will be addressed in a later instalment in the series.

One of the things I particularly liked about the book is that it’s set in a future where people are people and the rest is their own business.  We’re told that Lindana had a friends-with-benefits relationship with a fellow – female – officer, and that Gabriel has used his good-looks and charm to seduce both men and women; Lindana  and her brother are of Kenyan extraction, Lieutentant Jiang Chen is Chinese, Security Chief Ryder Kalani is Maori and so on.  This isn’t just gratuitous tokenism, though; this is a world in which the colour of one’s skin or what one does in bed isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, and I appreciated that a lot.

If you’re after a book which almost reads like a TV show or film – fast moving with quick edits and plenty of action – then Relaunch Mission might be right up your street.  I generally like and expect a little more depth from a book than I’d get from either of those media, but once I’d got used to the different style, I found myself pulled into the story and enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.  The epilogue clearly sets up the next book, Contingency Plan, which sees Jiang and Ryder take centre stage, and I’ll be on the look out for it this summer.