Theme: Heroine Disguised as Man
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by EllieM. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.
Only one prize matters: his champion’s heart
Dreaming big on a dead-end world… Jemm Aves toils for a mining company by day, but at night she is a successful bajha player, disguised as a male to compete in the violent underworld of the colony’s fight clubs. Every win puts her one small step closer to her goal: saving enough to escape Barésh with her family. When a royal recruits her to be a star player for his team, her ruse proves to be her most perilous game yet when it puts both their lives—and her heart—at risk.
Prince Charming he was not… Prince Klark is eager to reverse his reputation as the black sheep of the Vedla clan. If his bajha team can win the galactic title it would go a long way toward restoring the family honor that his misdeeds tarnished. On Barésh, he tracks down an amateur who has risen to the top of the seedy world of street bajha, offering the commoner a chance of a lifetime: a way off that reeking space rock for good. But his new player comes with a scandalous secret that turns his plans and his beliefs upside down. He sets out to win a very different prize—his champion’s reluctant heart.
Here is EllieM's review:
Good scifi romances are hard to find, but The Champion of Barésh by Susan Grant proves, they are out there.
A low-born woman willing to risk everything to save her family. A second born prince seeking redemption in the eyes of his King and people. When their goals align over the ancient sport they both love will they become each other’s greatest ally, or will the secret at the heart of it all destroy everything, including the confusing, building attraction between them?
Jemm Aves has been supporting her family since she was a young teen; now in her mid-twenties, she is determined to finally get her family off the seedy mining planet of Barésh. Every day, Jemm drives for the mining company that rules the planet. But at night she competes in Barésh City’s underground bajha fight clubs as the undefeated Sea Kestrel.
One problem: women aren’t allowed to play bajha. Thankfully her father’s old bajha suit hides her from view. But when her success in the ring grabs the attention of an honest-to-god Vedla prince, how will Jemm keep such a huge secret, especially when the dream of saving her family is so close?
Prince Klark is the spare to the heir in one of the few remaining royal families. His entire life has been about service to his traditional culture and name, but some poor decisions on his part has brought shame to his family. After seeing a vid of an amazing amateur bahja street fighter, Klark knows exactly how to restore his family’s honor: by adding a new star to his bajha team and winning the championship. Now if only he weren’t strangely attracted to the young man and his determined spirit.
I love scifi romances. Let me rephrase, I love good scifi romances and I readily admit that they can be hard to find.
I’d never read a Susan Grant book before, but the summary had my interest more than peaked. A kick-ass, take-charge heroine on a mission greater than herself and all the while bucking gender stereotypes? Heck yeah!
Being as this was my first book review for the revered and hallowed Bitches, I took this sh*t seriously. I ordered the physical book the day I signed up to write a review. When it arrived, I grabbed a glass of red and dug in.
This book was not at all what I expected and to be perfectly honest in the beginning pages I started to see a looming DNF. But, I am glad I stuck with it because I humbly admit, I was wrong. Here is the rundown of my reading journey as I followed Jemm’s quest to become the Champion of Barésh.
Within fifteen pages I realized that the pacing was a little slower than I’m used to, but considering all the awesome world building going on, I was okay with that. When it comes to world building Grant has mastered subtlety without stagnation. Grant doesn’t spoon-feed the reader; instead we infer how the differing civilizations developed to their current states. Much is described in real-time observations and there is little exposition dumping going on.
The sci-fi aspect isn’t overdone. The tech is where you’d expect it to have evolved at a realistic rate. Fashion seems to be a mix of old world and modern. Sure there are glowing tattoos and iridescent hair products, but nothing too out there just to remind you, “Hey! Hey! Did you remember this is the future?!”
Barésh is almost charming in a hard-edged, western frontier sort of way and Jemm is just as gutsy as you would hope. I immediately loved Jemm and was totally on board for her story.
And then I met the hero.
Suddenly I feared I’d made a terrible mistake in choosing this book. I was positive that my review would be something along the lines of “Well-written, but the hero needs to be thrown into a bottomless pit.”
Early on prince charming digs himself an impressively deep, misogynistic, dick hole (see what I did there) so deep in fact, that I saw no feasible way for him to climb his way out. Sure, his outlook on the genders and the classes was shown in the light of a very traditional, patriarchal society and he did have a soft spot for his little sister, but christ, the guy was straight-up unlikable, at least for this feminist reader.
So, fuming, I put the book down. To cleanse my palate, I devoured two or three other books in the meantime, but every night I’d see The Champion of Barésh on my bedside table taunting me. I was letting the bitchery down. I knew, even if I did end up giving it a DNF, I had to read on if I wanted it to be a fair and legit review.
So, I picked the book back up the week before my review was due. And I read and read and holy turn-around batwoman!
The author is very good at making you think you are headed straight for a trope like an arrow to a bullseye, but then bam, you end up embedded in a very interesting tree instead. Nothing ends up exactly like you expect. And the reasons are so deliciously realistic. The characters feel like real people. And damn-it if prince a-hole didn’t win me over.
The theme of the book is sacrifices, specifically the sacrifices we make for our families and those we love. As well as how those responsibilities can be stifling and in some cases debilitating.
If you are expecting a ton of spaceships and crazy scifi battles, you may be disappointed. This book is just as much if not more of a sports romance. I loved the mesh of cultures and growth of the characters. It’s all a bit of a slow burner. The ending felt just a tad rushed and I would have enjoyed a little more mess to it, but overall it was a very satisfying read.
If you like realistic character depth and reactions, if you like strong but human, feminist heroines, if you like sports romances, especially set in a scifi-world and if you like a budding romance built on mutual respect, then this is the book for you.