I really enjoyed Queenie's Brigade but I have no idea how to grade it. Should I assign a letter grade based on the over-all quality of writing, or the level of enjoyment? I find that all the ebooks I've read so far (steampunk, steampunk western, space opera, space opera western) are really, really fun and similar in style – but not what I would call Great Literature. The writing style is always over the top, everything is very exciting and colorful and nothing is subtle. Attraction is in the form of instant, over-powering, and unprecedented lust. No one is “pretty” or “cute”, they are “like a goddess” or some such hyperbole. There seem to be a lot of bazaars and jungles and saloons and glistening sweat and meaningful tattoos. These eBooks remind me of the pulp fiction of the forties and fifties, or of early comics. Of course said pulp fiction sold like mad in its day and has recently earned a whole second life, as Deep Reviewers with Deep Thoughts are suddenly appreciating its verve. Some of those dime store novels are getting recognized as Great Literature after all. I've read a lot of Great Literature and I am hear to tell you that although, for instance, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is an exquisitely crafted gem of a novel, I would much, much rather read Queenie's Brigade which at times is a mess but is at least a hot and exciting mess.
Here's the plot summary as written by the author, Heather Massey:
Captain Michael Drake desperately needs an army to save Earth after a crushing defeat by alien invaders. When his damaged starship docks at a remote prison colony, he discovers Earth’s last best hope—an army to replace the one he lost.
But Queenie, the feral goddess ruling the prison, has other plans for the rugged military leader. After imprisoning Drake and seizing his ship, she prepares to lead her bloodthirsty band to freedom before the invaders track them down.
Despite her intentions, Queenie secretly falls for the sexy, hotshot captain. Drake makes it plain he wants to win back Earth with her by his side. But is following her heart worth betraying her people?
Here's what I liked. First of all, the character of Queenie is very well done and a little unusual. She's one of those alpha heroines who merrily capers along the moral event horizon but can be redeemed by love. She's complex, she's Latina which is nice to see, she has a great back-story, she uses a variety of tactics to rule including but not limited to force, she has understandable motivations, and she is interesting and fun to read about. I also appreciated that the author didn't take the easy way out by describing her as ruthless but never showing her doing anything bad. We actually see her doing and/or ordering, terrible things, which may not be a barrel of laughs but is brave and honest writing. I did not, however, believe that she would wear clothing that would allow her breasts to fall out of her shirt upon delivering a punch.
I also liked the descriptions, both of place and of action. There were enough weighty themes to give the story some substance. The prison colony involved brutality but also poignancy. Most of the dialogue was good, although I never understood why Queenie started confiding in Drake or why Drake was so quick to fall for her after their first very violent meeting. The story was fast-paced and gripping. Anyone who liked the revamped Battlestar Galactica will enjoy this as it had thematic similarities without being derivative in the slightest.
All was not well in space, however. First of all, the book opens with some truly awkward exposition. After a prologue, the story kicks off in a space battle. In mid-battle, Captain Drake, our Hero, reflects on all the events that have led Earth, and by extension, himself, to this pivotal moment. If I am in battle, with enemy spacecraft closing in on me, I would really like my leader to be focusing on the matter at hand.
On the whole, I never took to Drake. He had a back-story (a particularly grim one that is explained in the Prologue) but other than that he didn't seem to have any depth. He was just too perfect. With an un-convincing hero, even if the rest of the book had been flawless, it still would have only been half of a good book. The rest of the book was not flawless. Obviously, romance writing is about largely about attraction and hot sex, but to me if the lust card is overplayed the story goes from sexy to campy. Mileage may vary, but the smell of guy sweat after a fistfight does not cause me to swoon, as in the following:
“She edged closer to him, close enough to catch his distinct masculine odor
from his recent exertions. It was a good thing they weren”t alone
because otherwise Drake wouldn‟t be safe from her many
Here's what I'm going to do about grading. I'm going to give the book a C+ because it had some major flaws, but I'm also going to tell you to read it anyway. You will be interested, you'll have a great time, and you'll be able to say you were reading Heather Massey before she was famous. This is Heather Massey's second book and she also has a blog I lurk on from time to time called The Galaxy Express. I enjoy the blog, I enjoyed Queenie's Brigade, and I am looking forward to more writing by Massey. I would love to see her tackle a longer novel. Massey is a relatively new writer and I expect to give one of her books an A eventually, because Queenie's Brigade showed a ton of potential for greater things. In the meantime, it was a delightful read when taken for what it is – space opera pulp fiction in all its crazy, flawed glory.