As the youngest member of her High House, Catarina von Hasenberg is used to being underestimated, but her youth and flighty, bubbly personality mask a clever mind and stubborn determination. Her enemies, blind to her true strength, do not suspect that Cat is a spy—which makes her the perfect candidate to go undercover at a rival House’s summer retreat to gather intelligence on their recent treachery. Cat’s overprotective older sister reluctantly agrees, but on one condition: Cat cannot go alone. Alexander Sterling, a quiet, gorgeous bodyguard, will accompany her, posing as her lover. After Cat tries, and fails, to ditch Alex, she grudgingly agrees, confident in her ability to manage him. After all, she’s never found a person she can’t manipulate. But Alex proves more difficult—and more desirable—than Cat anticipated. When she’s attacked and nearly killed, she and Alex are forced to work together to figure out how deep the treason goes. With rumors of widespread assaults on Serenity raging, communications down, and the rest of her family trapped off-planet, Catarina must persuade Alex to return to Earth to expose the truth and finish this deadly battle once and for all. But Cat can’t explain why she’s the perfect person to infiltrate hostile territory without revealing secrets she’d rather keep buried….
I’ve been on a science fiction kick lately, which is a bit odd for me because usually I can’t get into science fiction for various reasons. However, I knew that this book was out in the world and decided to go with what was working for my brain. This was a fun read, full of intrigue and family dynamics and a lovely romance. This is told exclusively from Catarina’s (Cat) point of view, so if close first person is not your thing, this is not the book for you.
Cat is very good at understanding people and motivating them to act in ways that will benefit her without being extremely obvious about it. We get to see this in the first few chapters of the book. However, she’s not used to allies or many friends acting without that motivation, or any other ulterior motivation to help her. A lot of the book is Cat learning that she can trust Alex to be there for her because he likes her and later on loves her, and not because of some other reason. Cat also has to figure out what kind of person she wants to be, because being a flighty socialite is bothering her at the beginning of the book. It’s not entirely clear to me that she’s figured this out by the end of the book, but she has become more comfortable asking for what she wants without subterfuge. This makes her relationship with her siblings better because they’re used to underestimating her at the beginning, but have to reevaluate by the end of the book.
It’s difficult for me to tell you much about Alex because his appeal isn’t immediately obvious, especially if you’re not into insta-attraction, which is how this read to me from Cat’s point of view. Alex is a character you’d recognize if you read the previous book in this series. If you haven’t, the basics are that Alex is a mercenary who is friends with Cat’s brother-in-law. He also has secret things in common with Cat herself. [Spoiler: they’re both scientific experiments in a world where genetic manipulation is a no-no.] Alex is smart, kind, and sees beyond Cat’s façade of flighty socialite to the competent if fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants woman that Cat truly is. Most importantly to Cat, he is willing to help her carry out her wildly risky plans. There was a decent amount of flinging Cat over Alex’s shoulder which I was not entirely a fan of, but I’ve read other books where this happens more.
Since this is a science fiction romance, I should mention that the science fiction does not take over the romance. It’s not complicated or new–there are varying kinds of spaceships, different societal structures, interplanetary travel, and so on. This book isn’t driven by science fiction ideas, but by characters and their interactions with each other and the rest of the world.
[Slightly spoiler-y: Which brings me to the villain and the resolution. The villain is motivated by greed for power. However, he escapes in the end, even though his plot was foiled, so he could come back at some later point. Before recent events, I’d complain to you that the villain’s motivation was not complex enough for me, but I can’t fully commit to that argument at this time. I did want to bring it up, though, in case such villains bother you.]
I enjoyed myself while reading this book and loved observing Cat’s world through her eyes as she figured out what she wanted for herself and how she wanted to get it, and having her fall in love along the way.