Book Review: Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Romance, Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Consortium Rebellion
Publisher: Harper Voyager (February 5, 2019)
Length: 448 pages
Not gonna lie, I’ve always been hard on the romances in my fiction. While I have nothing against romance, I’ve always said that if there’s going to be a romance arc in any book, it needs to be convincing—not to mention I also want the characters, plot and other story elements to be strong. It also helps when a novel is upfront with the reader on what to expect. In the case of Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik, it is an example of a sci-fi romance mashup that handles all these points very well.
The protagonist of this tale is Lady Ada of High House von Hasenberg. As the fifth of six children, her usefulness to her family only extends to her marriageability into one of the other High Houses, and only so that her father can have a spy in a rival’s house. To avoid that fate, Ada ran away years ago and has since survived on her own by living under the radar on space stations and mercenary ships. But unfortunately, her luck has just run out. As our story begins, Ada finds herself in a holding cell with another high-profile prisoner named Marcus Loch aboard a bounty hunter’s ship, soon to be handed off to Richard of High House Rockhurst, the man she was supposed to marry. Though Ada knows better than to trust Loch, a known dangerous criminal, she’s also aware he’s her only chance to escape. And so, the two of them strike up a tenuous alliance, agreeing to work together until they make it some place safe. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Loch is hot as hell and has the body of a Greek god.
However, Richard is not about to give up so easily. For some reason, House Rockhurst is really keen on having his and Ada’s arranged marriage go forward, presumably to get their hands on her dowry. But what exactly is it that they want? And why does Richard also seem to want to capture Loch as badly as he wants Ada? As our two fugitives go on the run together, they end up finding the answers to all these questions and more. In order to protect her house and prevent war, Ada will need to recruit more help and put a stop to Rockhursts’ plans. Meanwhile, she’s also realizing that Loch is more than he seems. He’s certainly not the heartless mercenary she had expected him to be, and as the two of them grow closer, Ada must also admit to herself that Loch has become more to her than just an escape plan.
In case it’s not glaringly obvious, Polaris Rising is mostly a romance first, and a genre novel second. By that, I mean it can be awfully self-indulgent at times, being predominantly interested in focusing the attention on the romance arc between Ada and Loch, and it does that boldly with no apology. For one, the plot is light and leaky and doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. World-building elements are plentiful but just robust enough to get by. Characters are also on the conventional side, with Ada being your typical heroine with a fierce personality and a strong independent streak, while Loch is even more clichéd as the tall, dark, brooding and possessive alpha male whose sculpted face and abs appear to be his main appeal. As they’re both archetypal to an extent, neither instilled much likeability at the beginning, though credit where credit’s due: both scored high on the believability meter. Ada and Loch are flawed characters each dealing with a painful event in their past. Ada’s prevents her from letting anyone get close, while Loch has done some terrible things that he’d rather forget. Again, it’s not the most original setup, resulting in drama that could have been predicted from miles away. And yet, the emotional growth they each experienced was convincingly written and fun to watch, and in the end, isn’t that why we read such stories?
Another point for this book: the supporting cast. Characters like Veronica, Rhys, and Bianca are fully-fleshed individuals in their own right, adding much flavor to the story (not to mention a nice break from the smoldering gazes our two protagonists are constantly throwing at each other). Even if romance isn’t your thing, you’ll love the meaningful relationships that these other characters add to the equation. And ultimately, that’s what I enjoyed most about Polaris Rising—the fact that there’s so much else to like beyond the main romantic arc. In spite of the light world-building, there is also a clear and strong effort to make the sci-fi setting as authentic and full-bodied as possible. It feels developed from the ground up along with the story, and not as though it was slapped on as an afterthought. And of course, if you’re here for the romance you’ll leave very happy, but those of us who require an actual plot with some action too will certainly not be disappointed either. Mihalik manages to balance the sexy times with enough suspense and thrills so that neither aspect overshadows the other, leaving both coming through very naturally.
Overall, I had a really good time with Polaris Rising. Admittedly, the romance genre is still not something I can take in large doses, but I love throwing a book like this into my reading repertoire whenever I feel like I need a change. Like a rich, fluffy, decadent dessert, I can only read these types of novels once in a while, but whenever I do, it’s always oh so satisfying and delicious.