Guys, I am not getting it. Help me out here! The writing is solid enough, the world building is decent, but I barely made it through this book. What am I missing?
Feel free to turn this plot synopsis into a drinking game – for there are many clichés to spot including an evil Empire that is TOTALLY NOT THE ONE IN STAR WARS. Chasidah was sentenced to a prison planet for a crime she did not commit (naturally). A handsome and mysterious rogue, Sully, with whom she has something of a history, rescues her. Said rogue wants her to help him destroy the Empire's Jukor breeding project – Jukors being these very dangerous animals that are being bred to use as weapons.
Chasidah and Sully proceed to steal spaceships and flirt and do all the spacefareing things I normally love to read about, but I was bored and annoyed. I soldiered through for you, dear Bitches, but I kept thinking about all the other things I could be reading instead – and that should never, ever happen when spaceships are involved.
Chasidah is a military pilot but, somewhat refreshingly, not one described as a “hotshot”. Her most important skill is a good memory for military codes. When it comes to codes and analysis, she is actually allowed to seem competent. Later in the book she achieves a certain “only sane person” status as she tries to be calm and manage all the secretive and hostile characters that surround her. Sadly, she spends the first half of the book getting rescued and whenever she tries to actually pilot a ship her crewmates ignore her orders and/or she winds up unconscious.
The book is narrated in first person from Chasidah's point of view, which means we know exactly how fearful she is at any given moment but have no sense of how other characters perceive her. She's endlessly understanding and forgiving of Sully, who SPOILER: mind rapes her, more than once, and to various degrees.
Chasidah is also on the receiving end of ugly sexism: she's constantly referred to as a bitch, sometimes affectionately and sometimes not, she is threatened with rape, her husband divorces her because she won't have babies, her partner orders her to not ask questions about him and SPOILER robs her of her sexual and emotional agency. I'm not suggesting that there won't be ANY sexism in the future, but I do think a futuristic story should not read like a 1980's book.
Meanwhile, I have no sense of Sully at all except that he's manipulative and vaguely tortured. I don't understand why he is in love with Chasidah or why she is in love with him – I can appreciate their sexual chemistry, but that's not love. Wanting two people to go ahead and have that great night of sex they've clearly been destined for is not the same as wanting them to have a relationship. They don't have a relationship – he won't tell her anything. A man who constantly orders his girlfriend to stop asking for vital information is not a man that sweeps me off my feet. He keeps doing terrible things, saying he's sorry, and doing them again. By the end of the book I felt more sympathy for him, but I still thought he had not reformed and would always be secretive and dishonest, although possibly he would be better at respecting boundaries.
Technically, this book is much better written than lot of books I give good grades too. I try to evaluate a book based on a lot of technical factors including the author's ability to use spell-check, but ultimately romance is a genre based on enjoyment and emotional impact and if I have no fun, and I'm not interested in the characters at all, I grade with a heavy hand, whereas I give a ton of slack to books that have original ideas and/or convey a true sense of excitement and romance even if the writing is otherwise clumsy. While I'm grateful that Linnea Sinclair can write a good description and can spell, Gabriel's Ghost held no excitement for me and I was completely uninterested in the fate of the main couple. I'm grading it pretty ruthlessly because I had to invest so much time in reading all 447 pages about a doormat and her asshole boyfriend. What am I missing about an author that clearly many people adore?