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Moonstruck
by Susan Grant
(HQN, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-373-77259-9
****
Climb aboard the starship Unity for a dazzling ride into Susan Grant's new Borderlands series.Moonstruck is an engrossing romance featuring a woman who lost everything she held dear, and now learns how to love again in the arms of a former enemy.

Coalition Admiral Brit Bandar is a veteran of the long-running war between the barbarian Drakken Horde and the more-advanced Coalition forces.Now that the Drakken have been defeated (see Grant's previous trilogy), a new, Triad government has been established with Coalition, Drakken, and Earth representatives. Brit finds herself summoned by the Prime-Admiral of the Coalition, where she is informed that a new state-of-the-art ship, the Unity, awaits her command. She'll be in charge of a crew that includes Coalition, Drakken, and Earthling members. Her second-in-command, in fact, is a Drakken: former pirate-turned-warleader Finn Rorkken. Their mission is to patrol the Borderlands between the former Coalition and Drakken territories and try to draw rogue Drakken into the Triad.

Finn, one of the few remaining Drakken Warleaders, commands a beat-up ship with a hungry crew that he can barely feed, now that his Drakken-issued scrip is worthless. He's tired of war and willing to give the Triad a chance, especially when he can bring his crew on board the Unity and perhaps change all of their lives for the better. Brit, however, is dismayed to find the pirate once known as the Scourge of the Borderlands, a man she chased many times and never caught, is now aboard her ship. Worse, he reminds her of her beloved late husband, and the attraction she feels for him can't be anything but disastrous.

Finn is equally bemused to meet the woman known throughout the galaxy as Stone Heart. Under her aloof demeanor, he senses a loneliness and slight vulnerability that puzzles him as much as her body attracts him. What caused that instant flash of pain on her face when they met? But Finn will have his hands full trying to keep control of his Drakken crewmembers, help them assimilate and adjust to working with Coalition crew, and deal with several savage attacks on outpost planets.

I enjoyed this story immensely. Susan Grant often writes about mature heroines, and Brit Bandar is no exception. Nearing forty, she's experienced much in life but has closed off her emotions, even reducing sex to a paid commodity. This works, until Finn's resemblance to her dead husband knocks her completely off-balance. At its heart, the story is about her struggle to overcome her deep-seated hatred of the Drakken and see Finn for the honorable man he is underneath. Grant does a fine job of detailing Brit's pain at the massacre of her family. It's introduced early on, and her subsequent struggle to abandon her prejudice is handled well. No lightning-fast turnarounds here, but a gradual acceptance, thanks to Finnís gentle handling and strong support.

Finn is less complicated, at least emotionally. He's an orphan, grew up on the streets, and rose to the rank of Warleader through his skills and intelligence. He long ago accepted what he couldn't change, and his focus is on the future - a sharp contrast to Brit, who is emotionally frozen in time and can't let go of her past. Finn is a dream hero in many ways: strong, honorable, and a terrific lover, but willing to admit he's knocked for a loop by Brit, who is his equal in intelligence and courage. When Brit finally decides that the only way to get Finn out of her thoughts is to just bed him and be done with it, it's red-hot - and her fate is sealed.

A secondary romance involving several crewmembers was enticing, but not quite resolved, and I'm hoping it might make its way into a future book. Grant left the door open for a more fully-developed story there.†As for the world-building, this is pretty much a sequel series to her last trilogy, so readers who have some knowledge of her past books will feel right at home, but it stands alone easily. In fact, the author takes pains to show the small details of life on board a star ship, and it's these little touches that bring it to life. One interesting note is that it takes place in current Earth time, in sort of a parallel-universe fashion. References to contemporary pop culture such as movie titles and brands of beer will help the reader place it.

The sub-plot of attacks on small outposts by a possible Drakken rogue band exists really as a catalyst to get Brit to resolve her issues, but it's functional and doesnít feel stuck on. Overall, Moonstruck is an excellent start to this new series, and I strongly recommend it. Susan Grant shows once again that she's a master at her craft. I'll be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

--Cathy Sova


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