Just as communication is the key to any healthy relationship, communication is also a key element of any truly enjoyable romance novel. If the characters involved do not know how to communicate with each other, or part of the plot does not involve them learning, then the romance may seem forced or unbelievable. So many stories have been brought low by pairing up characters without putting in the work to make their chemistry obvious to the audience. Part of the fun of a romance story is watching the characters revolve around each other, figuring each other out, learning the telltale outward signs of their emotional states. In these kinds of plots, miscommunications are believable, and tense, plot hooks. Without the honest effort to learn, that lack of communication could result in disastrous effects; readers may think the characters stupid, rather than possessing of realistic emotions.
Eclipse the Moon is the sequel to Jessie Mihalik’s previous novel, Hunt the Stars, and the second entry in the Starlight’s Shadow series. A spiritual sequel of sorts after her entertaining Consortium Rebellion series, Eclipse the Moon picks up not long after the climax of Hunt the Stars. Following the trend of that previous series, the second book in this planned trilogy shifts the point-of-view to another character, returning from the first book. Mihalik tends to write in the first-person, so we see the story through the eyes of our main character, privy to all of her thoughts and feelings as the plot progresses and character relationships deepen. Set in a future where humanity has transitioned the stars, the books take place after the end of a war between the human Federation and the alien Valovian Empire. The Valoffs are near-human, however, with the exception of vibrant, color-changing eyes and a variety of psychic powers. When last we left off, Captain Octavia “Tavi” Zarola and her crew, all disillusioned veterans of the war, befriended a contingent of Valoffs and narrowly prevented the outbreak of another war. Being a romance novel as a well as a science-fiction story, Tavi found love as well. Mihalik brings systems engineer and expert hacker Kee Ildez to the forefront in Eclipse the Moon, creating a familiar but fun adventure.
During the events of Hunt the Stars, the crew of Starlight’s Shadow identified the main villain as Commodore Morten of the Federation, although the reasons behind his wanting to restart the war remain nebulous. In fact, trying to figure out the “why” is a central plot point of the series. Eclipse the Moon picks up with the crew still searching for his whereabouts, their efforts led by Kee as an accomplished hacker and researcher. However, tensions are running high on the ship for her, in a way that has nothing to do with the mission. Varro Runkow, a Valoff weapons expert who joins the crew in the first book, is a constant source of pain and confusion for Kee due to her unresolved attraction to him. At times he seems to respond to her flirting, at others he apparently ignores her. During their early interactions in Hunt the Stars, Varro inadvertently insulted her and her capabilities gravely, a wound which only stung more because of that attraction. Needing some time to herself, Kee volunteer to spend a month working alone on the space station Bastion, where she may be able to gain access to vital military networks. Once there, and of course followed by Varro, Kee also discovers an upcoming fashion show, featuring the first-ever collaboration between human and Valoff designers, where she is quickly sucked into a terrorist attack and a kidnapping that dives the rest of the plot.
Mihalik does a excellent job at showing how different a character Kee is from Tavi, while keeping some similarities to hold returning readers. For example, both are very compassionate and kind people, defining traits that naturally draw friends and allies around them. Their focus, however, is worlds apart. Tavi is a natural leader with a commanding presence, even if some of that is an act. She is an expert in combat and strategy, and also trained to protect her mind from psychic infiltration or attack. Where Tavi can be a bit reserved, Kee is downright bubbly. Funny and friendly, she is the personable one of the crew, capable of dismantling most tensions. She is also extremely intelligent, making up for her shortcomings when it comes to fighting or psychic defense. Throughout both stories, but brought to the forefront here, Kee accomplishes remarkable feats of programming and hacking, fixing dangerous malware and expertly tampering with security cameras on the fly. Inside her head, however, we learn that she also suffers from anxiety and the occasional bout of low self-esteem, worrying that her friends might abandon her even when she logically knows it will not happen. She also loves so deeply that she hesitates to act on her feelings in case they are not reciprocated. In short, Kee will prove to be an extremely relatable character for many readers.
Like Tavi before her, Kee also brings with her a romantic interest in the form of Varro. Quiet and taciturn, Varro is a very different character from Tavi’s lover, Torran. While he did not receive a great amount of character development in Hunt the Stars, Varro’s scenes with Kee in that book form the basis of their relationship in Eclipse the Moon. We only see him through her eyes, but what we see is a man who is absolutely atrocious at communication. In fact, Kee and Varro learning to communicate with each other is the central guiding force of their relationship in this book. Through his actions early on, we can see that Varro does care about Kee. She is the type of person who forgets to eat or sleep while working, and Varro takes it upon himself to make sure she does not sacrifice her health in the pursuit of information. While Kee’s previous attempts at flirting went un-reciprocated, we see the hints of an attraction through the glances he steals at Kee at various points. At times, Varro can come across as a little generic, a result of him being the strong, silent type. But he is elevated through his interactions with Kee. Readers of Mihalik’s work know that romance is central to her stories, but she embraces the fact that real relationships require putting in the work.
Eclipse the Moon is the rare romance novel that manages to strike a great balance between developing the relationship between the characters and advancing the actual plot, partly because the plot affects the characters personally. When they are invested in something, we the reader also become invested in it. We want our characters to strive for something and accomplish their goals. Mihalik also understands that she has created professionals with her characters. They are a crew, and mostly military veterans. While their own emotions may be in turmoil, Kee and Varro never let that interfere with the mission at hand. Several opportunities to deepen their relationship are also interrupted by plot events, a both frustrating and realistic occurrence. Alongside the conflict of the plot, the need for Kee and Varro to learn how to communicate is also a central conflict. We feel Kee’s hurt when Varro goes from acting warmly towards her to cold, when he turns his attention away after the two have seemingly made progress. Their burgeoning romance is a well-written slow-burn, and Mihalik is very good at keeping things above board. While some romance novels can include questionable understandings of consent, Mihalik seems to understand that enthusiastic consent can be extremely attractive in a relationship, and the payoff for hundreds of page of relationship development is absolutely fantastic.
Eclipse the Moon is a fun follow-up to Hunt the Stars, keeping the adventure moving and introducing a new romance to enjoy. While the building blocks of the plot and characters may be familiar to Mihalik’s readers, she is fantastic at keeping things fresh and fun with each new book. Keeping with the trend, the next book in the Starlight’s Shadow series will once again switch the POV to another character and another romance, the hints of which were set up in the previous two books. Although details are still light on the plot of the next book, one thing is certain; the romance will be great.
Eclipse the Moon can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold
Total Read Time: 8 days
Next on the List: Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution