My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(Disclaimer before I begin: Sheryl and I are both Carina Press authors, and she has been featured on my site’s Boosting the Signal column, promoting this very book! This book was not, however, received as part of that column promotion, and I’m reviewing it on my own recognizance.)
Sheryl Nantus’ Tales from the Edge series was pitched to me as heavily influenced by Firefly–and anything that invokes Firefly is a surefire way to get my attention. My Browncoat inclinations certainly see that influence right in the very title, since “the Black” is common parlance for space in that universe, and there’s also a Marian Call song of this title! (Which you should listen to. But I digress!) Certainly the scenario is Firefly-like, with the action being set aboard the Bonnie Belle, a so-called Mercy ship whose task it is to bring a crew of courtesans to a mining outpost so the miners there can have some hard-earned time with them. And if you know Firefly at all, you’ll also recognize the Guild that runs the Mercy ships as being reminiscent of the Companions, including giving the courtesans power to blacklist problem clients.
Nor did the book disappoint once it reeled me in. This is more or less SFR, but with rather less R than I expected. The primary plot is in fact a murder mystery, which erupts once the Belle docks at the mining outpost and one of the courtesans is discovered killed in her quarters. This gives the reader a rather tasty helping of intrigue as well, since there’s bucketloads of drama as to how both the Guild and the mining outpost will handle the ensuing investigation. Our two lead characters, Captain Sam Keller and Marshal Daniel LeClair, are not terribly complicated characters. But they’re likable and have good strong chemistry together, both from a romantic standpoint and from the standpoint of working together to investigate the murder.
I should also mention that while the worldbuilding was a bit light, just enough to give you the scenario with the Mercy ships and with military trauma in our heroine’s background, it was not non-existent. There’s a nice scene between Sam and Daniel when he’s telling her something of his own history, and he mentions growing up on Titan and swimming with other young people in a lake. Details were not heavily sketched in in this scene, but the simple fact that this was on Titan does raise rather interesting questions as to when Titan was terraformed in this particular universe.
And while there is indeed a romance between our two leads, it surprised me that there was actually no on-camera sex to be found–especially given that most of the action is taking place on board a Mercy ship. This is actually absolutely fine by me, because that’s actually exactly how I like to see a romance handled. So mad props to Nantus for that, because she certainly revs the imagination with what Sam and Daniel get up to off-camera. For me as a reader, leaving those shenanigans to the imagination actually makes them more fun.
I liked the supporting cast as well, though it was inevitable that I kept imagining the Belle‘s female engineer played by Jewel Staite and the ship’s medic played by Sean Maher. I also kept imagining the ship’s AI as voiced by Morena Baccarin and the senior courtesan in the crew as played by Gina Torres. Because what can I say? Browncoat.
And needless to say, I’ll be reading Book 2 in this series very soon, since the aforementioned medic does in fact star in that installment. For this one, four stars.