Jessie Mihalik’s debut novel, Polaris Rising (2019), is a bit like if Leia Organa and Han Solo didn’t have that wet blanket Luke Skywalker moping about, bringing everyone down with his whinging about moisture farming and power converters. It’s a story about a runaway princess and an outlaw soldier causing all kind of space-shenanigans, evading capture by the princess’ intended fiancé and her overbearing father, and the best part is that the princess is the one driving all the action and risking everything to protect her life and the lives of her companions.
So who is this princess? Ada von Hasenberg, one of the lowest-ranked among her five siblings in terms of succession to their father’s power and holdings, whose usefulness lies in being married off to one of the two other High Houses controlling the known universe, either House Rockhurst or House Yamado. Since her primary reason to exist is corporate/familial espionage, she’s trained for her entire life in etiquette, combat, politics, and information-gathering. But Ada’s more than just a pretty face, and marriage to Richard Rockhurst sounds like less fun than going for a suitless EVA, so she takes her destiny into her own hands and flees, managing to stay free for over two years until a band of Rockhurst’s mercenaries gets lucky and takes her prisoner.
Unluckily for the mercs, they’ve also captured Marcus Loch, the Devil of Fornax Zero and the Royal Consortium’s most-wanted criminal. Loch’s notoriety stems from a killing spree during an attempt to quash a rebellion on Fornax, in which he slaughtered “at least a dozen of his commanding officers and fellow soldiers,” and the Consortium’s inability to capture him since then has resulted in an impressively high bounty being placed on his handsome, surly head. For the right price, Loch will help Ada escape her fiancé, but you know what they say about making a deal with the devil…
Mihalik’s prose is generally well-written; action scenes are paced and explained in clear enough detail that it’s easy to visualize what’s happening and to whom, and the romance scenes are equally descriptive and entertaining. Fair warning: Polaris Rising is not a “clean” romance, and there are detailed and graphic portrayals of consenting adults engaging in sexual acts, though there’s much more to the novel than smoldering glances and wandering hands. There’s also subterfuge, daring escapes and rescues, political/familial/financial intrigue, and some very welcome female friendship. Descriptions of futuristic haute couture are a little lacking in comparison to the action sequences, or the impossibly-advanced ship Ada and her ragtag band discover, but Ada’s obviously at her most comfortable in practical gear, so her focus is on an outfit’s number and placement of pockets and how many weapons she can carry at a given time.
I enjoyed Polaris Rising so much more than I’d expected to, despite some debut-writer missteps: some early details are a little repetitive, character interactions are sometimes oblique when I would have liked more explanation, and the plot had a flew clichés here and there. But the level of sheer enjoyment outweighed all of that and made for a very enjoyable reading experience, even when taking into account the deadly seriousness of Ada’s life on the run. Ada is smart, resourceful, and more than capable of taking care of herself — Mihalik makes it obvious that this princess hasn’t survived solely thanks to the kindness of others — and it’s interesting to watch her struggle to balance her self-interest against her growing reliance on Loch and her slowly-growing number of friends.
In a word, Polaris Rising was fun. Mihalik’s story kept me on the edge of my seat, and I relished the ways in which she subverted my expectations for both the space opera and romance genres. The best news of all is that book two of THE CONSORTIUM REBELLION, Aurora Blazing, is currently scheduled for an October 2019 release, and I’m excited to find out what Mihalik has in store for readers.