|Apparently the Next Big Thing in romance novels is the Kick-Ass Heroine Romance, characterized by lots of action, adventure, and heroines who don’t need to be rescued by knights on white chargers. Since Susan Grant has been writing this type of novel for several years, she’s the logical choice to launch Lovespell’s 5-book “2176” series. Unfortunately, the titular heroine does little ass-kicking for much of this novel, and the action is less than fast and furious for long stretches. However, Grant admittedly faces a challenge in setting up the rest of the series and introducing a vastly different future, so a lot of exposition is necessary, and while the pace is not always breathtaking, it never lags either. The Legend of Banzai Maguire piqued my interest enough to ensure that I will read the rest of the books in the series, including Grant’s own closing installment.
On what should have been a routine fly-over mission, U.S. Air Force Captain Bree “Banzai” Maguire and her best friend and wingman, Cam “Scarlet” Tucker are shot down over North Korea and forced to eject from their planes. Before Banzai can find where Cam’s parachute landed, she is captured by a mad scientist who puts her into a state of suspended animation as part of his bio-stasis experiment. While he only plans to keep her in this condition for a few days, world events leave Banzai stuck in a cryo-pod for almost two centuries.
Fast forward to 2176, where Commander Ty Armstrong, SEAL, treasure-hunter and son of the supreme military commander of the United Colonies of Earth, finds the treasure he’s been fascinated by since his youth – the pod containing Banzai Maguire, hidden in the underwater caves of what is now the isolationist Asian Kingdom. Before Ty can revive Bree and bring her back to his country, he is caught by Kyber, Emperor Prince of Asia, and thrown in prison. Banzai awakes to find herself the celebrated guest in a world that has little resemblance to the one she left. The U.S. has become a heavy-handed imperial power that keeps peace with somewhat dubious methods. Kyber’s Asia is a mystery to the outside world, but an apparent paradise to those living within its borders. Europe and Africa are now allies, while poor Canada, the victim of a devastating plague, has been closed off to the rest of the world.
Banzai is intrigued by the powerful yet courtly Kyber and more than a little tickled by the life of luxury that he promises, but her first duty is to find out if Cam also survived into the future. When Kyber is less than completely forthcoming, she tries to get some answers from the imprisoned Ty Armstrong, who will admit nothing more than his name, rank and serial number. Despite Kyber’s insistence that she has landed in Shangri-La, there are murmurs of protest and a mysterious shadow voice that claims Banzai is an important piece of the promised revolution that will free the planet’s oppressed people. Where do Banzai’s political and personal loyalties lie, and where does she fit in this brave new world?
As always, Grant creates a strong, quick-witted heroine who can get herself out of her own jam, thank you very much (unless she’s stuck in suspended animation). Unfortunately, Grant doesn’t allow her to demonstrate much butt-kicking capability for the first two-thirds of the novel as she recovers her strength and tries to uncover the fate of her friend. While this section is necessary for Banzai and the reader to learn about the realities of life in 2176, it prevents the book’s momentum from taking off. A subplot about a tragedy in Banzai’s past that made her an “overprotective control freak,” introduced early on and then largely abandoned, feels awkwardly inserted to give Banzai unnecessary additional psychological depth. Did we need to know Wonder Woman’s inner motivations to root for her?
A more interesting issue emerges as both Banzai and Ty learn about the darker flipside of the U.C.E.’s impressive ability to sustain world peace, namely suppression of certain rights and excessive taxation of its colonies – hmm, sound familiar to any history buffs? With eerie echoes of our current world crisis, our hero and heroine grapple with issues of loyalty to a country that they have sworn to defend, even if they don’t agree with the choices its leaders are making. For Ty, whose father is a political leader, the decisions are even more significant.
The book ends with much left unresolved for the future of both Banzai and the planet, although it’s not a true cliffhanger ending. We’ll meet Banzai again and find out what happened to Cam in December’s The Scarlet Empress. Meanwhile, the series moves on with other authors, including Kathleen Nance’s Day of Fire in May, Liz Maverick’s The Shadow Runners in June and Patti O’Shea’s The Power of Two in November. If the rest of the series is as intriguing as Banzi Maguire, the Kick-Ass Heroine will be well-served indeed.