Susan Grant continues her stratospheric ascent with her latest fantasy romance, combining action and romance in a gripping, thought-provoking package. Contact features several strong female characters, including my nomination for Heroine of the Year. The book’s hero pales a little in comparison, but the thoughtful plot and exciting, suspenseful climax more than compensate for that minor flaw.
A routine flight from Honolulu to San Francisco turns into a nightmare when United Airlines Flight 58 encounters a bizarre thunderstorm that defies all laws of nature. Captain Brian Wendt and First Officer Jordan Cady are unable to navigate their way around the storm, and are engulfed by what appears to be a giant shadow. When they realize they have been caught by a huge spaceship of some kind, they think at first that they have been hijacked by terrorists with extremely advanced technology. Before the truth comes out, Captain Wendt is stricken by a fatal heart attack. Jordan is now in charge of 290 frightened individuals who are depending on her to lead them through this unique crisis. For it becomes clear that their hijackers are not garden-variety terrorists - they are individuals from a different world.
Kào Vantaar-Moray doesn’t understand why the passengers from this Earth plane are so hostile to his overtures. After all, his ship, the Savior, has rescued them from certain death. He has the unenviable task of telling the Earthlings that they are the only survivors from their planet, which has been destroyed by a renegade comet. However, they are fortunate to be on board with his adoptive father, Ilya Moray, a hero for the Alliance planets in their continuing battles against the evil, slave-trading Talagars. Kào is especially grateful to his father for including him on this mission. After being responsible for the capture of an Alliance ship and the torture of its crew, Kào’s reputation is pretty well shot, so he needs to be successful in this assignment to integrate the new refugees and transport them to a location where they can start over again.
Unlike the fanciful, exotic Star King and Star Prince, Grant’s latest novel is much more somber, demonstrating a post-9/11 mindset that honors ordinary people who are thrust into the role of hero. The Alliance civilization is much like ours, only more advanced, and the fantasy elements are held to a minimum. As a result, the focus is on Jordan, her crew, and the passengers who make up “New Earth.” Faced with the devastating loss of loved ones and the disappearance of everything that is familiar, they must cope with their sorrow while also finding a way to build a new society. Some with special skills step forward, including Ian Dillon, an intriguing Irishman who has a way with computers. Another standout is Natalie, the female flight attendant whose elegance belies a talent for kickboxing.
But most of the refugees rely on Jordan’s leadership skills, forcing her to shoulder the huge responsibility while dealing with her own grief over the loss of her young daughter back on Earth. The reader feels Jordan’s doubts and insecurities but roots for her as she meets every challenge. Although she develops a passionate romance with Kào, she’s no star-stuck alien-groupie, but a resourceful woman who needs an equally strong man.
Kào does a little too much ruminating about his tortured (literally) past, but you have to respect his sensitive approach to Jordan and her fellow New Earth citizens. I wish he had been offered more of a chance to display some grand heroics, but his quiet courage and his ability to make the right choice when confronted with some hard truths make him an admirable hero.
But the book really belongs to Jordan, as well as the other female characters who hang tough when things look bleakest. The last hundred pages of the novel must be read in one sitting, as the fate of the New Earthians hangs in the balance and surprises abound. This is Girl Power at its butt-kicking best, and the result is a romance novel with such admirable heroines that I’d be proud to share it with my 11-year-old daughter. Okay, maybe not the love scenes, just the butt-kicking ones.
Contact could easily be expanded by several hundred pages to include even more information about the establishment of the New Earth society. I also wouldn’t mind reading about the events that take place in the ten years between the book’s last chapter and its epilogue. Susan Grant is a talented enough author to break free of the page restraints of the romance novel genre; I’d love to see what she could do if given free rein to let her imagination and spirit run free.