One of the most popular tropes in romance stories is that of enemies to lovers. In short, two characters who begin on opposite sides of a conflict, whether it be a war or ideological divide, find themselves attracted to one another despite their opposition. There are a multitude of reasons why this trope is popular, and all of them vary depending on the story being told and the author writing that story. Sometimes it involves a villain redeeming themselves and turning against the antagonists, other times it involves more compromise in the cases where neither side is outright evil. In some stories, the characters fall for each other during combat or conflict, but, in others, they are forced to work together for some common goal. The permutations on enemies to lovers are nearly endless, but they all share one key aspect in common. No character involved can be truly evil or villainous. Enemies to lovers relies on walking a strict line, lest it turn into abuse or apologizing bad behavior. Luckily, the subject of this review is an excellent example of the trope done right.
Jessie Mihalik, the author of the excellent Consortium Rebellion series, returns with her latest science-fiction romance novel, Hunt the Stars. For anyone who has read that previous series, along with her earlier Rogue Queen trilogy, the start of her newest series can feel like returning to a comfortable, familiar space. The prolific author has honed her craft with each book, dazzling readers with doses of science-fiction action and planetary exploration paired with some incredibly spicy romance, never shying away from the most intimate details of the relationships she depicts. She also knows how to maintain that delicate balance, holding each aspect of her novel in equal regard, leaving something for every reader to pick up one of her novels. That said, Mihalik knows her audience well and understands why we pick up her novels in the first place. With a degree in computer science and a love of video games, Mihalik wears her nerd status with pride, and invites readers to share in that love of genre. To fans of hers, and newcomers looking for a fun, science-fiction romance tale, Hunt the Stars is the right place.
While there are certainly some similarities in the settings of Hun the Stars and the previous Consortium Rebellion series, this novel takes place in an all-new world. Sometime before the beginning of the story, and occurring far into our future, humanity expanded into the stars. Rather than discovering themselves to be along in the universe, they instead made contact with the Valoffs, an alien race that turned out to not be so alien after all. The book does not touch on it much, but it is made clear early on that the two are distant cousins, fueling speculation as to which planet was humanity’s true origin. Conflict with the Valoffs was inevitable once humans learned that the wormholes they had also found were already in use by the aliens, leading to a long war over resources, trade routes, and more reasons that the main characters may not be aware of. The exact start of the war is never made clear. A few years before the start of the book, the war came to a close, with both sides hurting and a treaty signed. While the two races are still mistrustful of each other, those barriers are slowly falling as trade, tourism, and immigration all exist. Despite this grand universe, Hunt the Stars really only has two settings: the Valoff home world of Valovia, and the spaceship Starlight’s Shadow. Still, that is all that the story needs.
Hunt the Stars is told from the first-person point-of-view of Captain Octavia “Tavi” Zarola, former soldier in the human military and current bounty hunter. With her small crew, all of whom served under her in the military, and her ship, the Starlight’s Shadow, Tavi has formed a sort of found family, and the book makes it clear that they hold a mutual love and respect of one another. While she is a professional, Tavi also has a large and open heart, exemplified by her relationship with Luna, a mildly telepathic creature called a burbu. With Luna, Tavi is free to show her most caring side, even as she chastises the critter for conning others into over-feeding her. Tavi’s equal and opposite in the story if General Torran Fletcher, a Valoff general who hires her to find something precious which was stolen from him, kickstarting the plot of the novel. As we quickly learn, Valoffs are all telepathic, but Torran goes beyond that. He is also a powerful telekinetic. From page one, Mihalik ensures that the two most important characters are forced to work together towards a common goal, and they spend nearly the entire book together. While understandable mistrustful of one another, the first half of the novel does a great job of showing them breaking through old fears and prejudices, daring to see the opposite side of the conflict as people, rather than enemies. The relationship between Tavi and Torran comes to form the backbone of the entire plot, and it is a strong backbone.
While Mihalik’s previous Consortium Rebellion trilogy blended action with political intrigue and mystery Hunt the Stars decides to focus entirely on intrigue and character building. More than anything else, the plot of this book is character based, and it is stronger for it. If the book were all plot, or did not take the time to let the characters interact and grow, it would not be nearly as engaging as it is. That said, there is one action sequence, which occurs as part of the climax near the end of the story. However, even that is steeped in the characters, growing the scene’s tension. Even without a plethora of action, however, the book can still be plenty tense. Revelations lead to confrontations, and whenever Tavi’s heart breaks, readers will feel it intimately. There is the building, and then breaking, of trust. There is the kind of hurt that comes from cruelty, and the kind of hurt that comes from misunderstandings or careless remarks. There is the kind of hurt of being so in love with someone, and so scared that they might not feel the same about you. Despite having read Mihalik’s previous work, for a few moments, it really did feel like the main characters of Hunt the Stars would not reach the happy endings they deserve.
The romance that grows between Tavi and Torran is another worthy entry into Mihalik’s catalogue, starting off with an extremely slow burn as these two characters begin the story firmly as the enemies from the enemies to lovers trope. However, once Tavi sees Torran’s face, she cannot help but find him attractive, and her narration shows that the attraction perhaps becomes mutual in the early parts of the story. The first act of the novel finds the Valoff crew traveling onboard the Starlight’s Shadow, staying in close proximity to the human characters for an extended period of time. Steadily, the mutual attraction between Tavi and Torran becomes obvious, but only after a rare moment of vulnerability on Tavi’s part. True to the trope, their romance cannot progress until both sides are able to see each as people instead of strictly enemies. That is not to say they immediately fall for each other. Trust still has to be earned, and that is no easy feat. However, once Tavi and Torran embrace their care and attraction and the romance starts pushing forward, it moves fast, leading to some incredibly spicy scenes between the two. By combining true respect with a dash of kink and enthusiastic consent on both sides, Mihalik is able to create a relationship we want to follow and see succeed.
With Hunt the Stars, Jessie Mihalik continues to show why she is one of the most fun science-fiction or romance authors, creating engaging relationships and entertaining plots. While the Consortium Rebellion trilogy was incredibly fun, this new Starlight’s Shadow series promises to build upon what came before. Luckily, fans of Mihalik will not have to wait very long until the sequel, Eclipse the Moon, which is set to release in July of this year. Following the trend set by Consortium Rebellion, the next story will actually follow a character other than Tavi, although it is more than likely Tavi and Torran will still appear. The series is named after her ship, after all, as it represents the place that all these characters can call home. Hunt the Stars is an incredibly fun and hot science-fiction romance story and, if the past is anything to go by, the story will only get better from here.
Hunt the Stars can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold
Total Read Time: 11 days
Next on the List: Vampire Blood Drive, by Mira Ong Chua