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in the black


Book review: In the Black, by Sheryl Nantus

In the Black (Tales from the Edge, #1)

In the Black by Sheryl Nantus

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.

View all my reviews

Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: In the Black, by Sheryl Nantus

Hey, I get to help a fellow Carina author out with release-week promo, how awesome is that? Because Sheryl Nantus has just dropped a brand new science fiction romance, In the Black, and if you’re a Browncoat who’s thinking that title has an awfully familiar ring to it, you wouldn’t be far off. I’ve seen Sheryl citing Firefly as an influence on her story, especially with how her heroine’s the captain of a ship full of high-class courtesans! Just the sort of job I could see an AU Inara taking on.

And now I TOTALLY want that fanfic. But until I get it, here’s a newcomer to the Belle, with a real simple goal–settling in, with the help of Jenny the mechanic, who is apparently this book’s Kaylee, and who apparently has the goal of some side dealing, hmm? Check it out!


In the Black

In the Black

You from Diego? My name’s Jenny. That box you’re carrying got the stuff I agreed upon with D? Great—come on this way. We’ll talk in my quarters, I don’t want the captain seeing us doing business. She’s not hardcore but I don’t want to put her in any sort of compromising position. Climb down in here.

Hey there—look out for that pipe! It’ll take your head off if you smack it hard enough. I’ve got more than my fair share of bruises from that ventilation shaft. Took me only a few weeks aboard the Bonnie Belle to learn my lesson and duck. Just follow me and don’t take any side trips—you get lost in here easy enough and I don’t got the time to track you down.

The Belle? She’s a fine ship, a good ship. A Mercy ship but don’t let that stop you from admiring a good piece of work. I know Mercy ships got all sorts of reputations and we run hard, taking the courtesans from base to base to keep the miners happy but it’s what’s underneath that counts—and mechanics like me are what keeps them running to make everyone get what they want.

It might not seem very glamorous, crawling around the undercarriage of a big ship like this and keeping out of the way of the women and men above but I don’t mind. The new captain, she’s a nice one. Sam Keller—she lends me books and stuff and we talk a lot about things. She’s new to the Guild so she needs help getting settled and doing what a captain does when you land on a base full of horny miners all wanting to get to the men and women ‘board the Belle. Don’t know what she did before she decided to sign on with the Guild but she’s got ghosts in her mind. Ex-military, I figure, since she likes those damned combat boots and don’t want to wear nothing but her old fatigues. Which is fine except she’s got to make the presentation when we make landfall and those guys don’t want smelly old boots and stained green pants. Well, not stained in that way, if you get my drift.

The crew? Fine folk as long as you know your place. I don’t want to say too much about them ’cause we work different jobs and all that. Usually you keep the same crew for months, maybe years unless one of the courtesans asks for a transfer or buys out her or his contract – that’s how we got Halley. She transferred in after a catfight on another ship and hooked up with Bianca. Only ones here who might be able to buy out their contracts might be Kendra or April but I wouldn’t ask them ’bout it. Not good manners. Lots of the women stay around and take a second tour or third ’cause it’s what they want to do. Plenty more get caught in the company store trick with the Guild and end up owing everything they have. I stay ahead of the game and so does the captain but it means we don’t get a lot of fancy stuff like hot showers and all that. But I’m saving up for a ship of my own, one of those fast cutters like you see here on my wall.

Good, good. Just what I needed. Gotta keep the washing machine going otherwise I’ll be up to my ass in dirty laundry and those women, they don’t like recycling their sheets if you get my drift. Don’t seem important to you and me but they got paying customers who don’t want any evidence of who’s been ’round before them.

Here’s your cred stick. Just what I agreed on with Diego and don’t let him stiff you on your cut for making the delivery. Let me show you back to the landing bay otherwise you’ll get lost and I’ll end up asking Belle to find you.

The computer AI, silly. She’s smarter than most anyone I know and she keeps the ship straight and level. She sees everything ‘cept what she’s not supposed to ’cause of her Guild programming. Still don’t want her having to trace you through the shafts so keep close behind me and I’ll get you out of here in a jiffy.

There, see? Easy to avoid smacking your head when you keep your wits about you and keep your head down. Don’t worry I always got a list of stuff the courtesans want so I’ll be in touch. Diego knows I’m good for a few extra creds whenever we make landfall where guys like you can meet us.

Yeah, the landing bay’s huge. Trust me it seems mighty small when you’ve got a mob of hungry men waiting for their turn with the courtesans. They all behave however else they’ve got to deal with Captain Keller and she doesn’t take kindly to any misbehaving. Not until they’re behind closed doors and all.

After all, like the ad says – “Everyone loves a Mercy woman”.

See you In the Black!


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