Book Review: Dark Horse by Michelle Diener


Science fiction with a bit of romance. June 2015; self-pubbed.

This is one of those stories I could not put down. I wish I could predict these in advance — I wouldn’t have started reading it on a weekday evening if I’d known I would be up until 3 a.m. finishing it.  🙂  I’m not saying it’s the best book I’ve ever read or the very best written — but the story and characters grabbed me and would not let go, and overrode any flaws.

The core of the story is the relationship between Rose, a human who’s been kidnapped and tortured by aliens, and Sazo (ship number 5AZ0), the artificial intelligence that is just coming to realization of itself as an advanced sentient being who’s also enslaved by the alien Tecran. For both of them to be free, Rose needs Sazo’s control of the spaceship and he needs her mobility and opposable thumbs. Sazo is somewhat like the Vulcans, all logic and little emotion, although he quickly learns emotions at a child’s erratic level. He is consciousness without a conscience. He takes the most expedient and what he sees as the most sensible route, and if that means destroying those who delay or inhibit or annoy him, well… And he has learned from what he’s been exposed to — the evil and brutal Tecrans. You can see why the whole United Council of this galaxy wants to destroy him.

Rose is one of the best heroines I’ve read. She is not “kick ass”, with the implied physical and fighting skills–she’s a linguist and singer, no past experience with violence. But she is very smart, brave, determined and ethical; assertive and strong-willed but not aggressive; empathetic and understanding without being overly emotional. Rose can’t control the incredibly powerful Sazo, but she tries to teach him empathy, the value of life, the need for compromise and collaboration, and that it’s better to have allies than enemies. There’s lots of space adventure, plots, betrayals, battles, but the relationship between Rose and Sazo is the main point of the story. Rose’s relationship with the Grih spaceship captain who helps rescue her is a nice, although not very plausible, subplot. (An alien race in a galaxy distant from Earth and with no prior contact — who just happen to be almost physically identical, including sexually compatible, have a very similar culture, and live on a world with the same type air and gravity and such? Uh huh.) There are some standard scifi tropes — when you read “Class 5 ship”, think Death Star; AIs controlling a ship; and so forth. But these just help the reader feel comfortable and accepting. And detract not at all from the uniqueness and fascination of the story,


Some secrets carry the weight of the world.

Rose McKenzie may be far from Earth with no way back, but she’s made a powerful ally–a fellow prisoner with whom she’s formed a strong bond. Sazo’s an artificial intelligence. He’s saved her from captivity and torture, but he’s also put her in the middle of a conflict, leaving Rose with her loyalties divided.

Captain Dav Jallan doesn’t know why he and his crew have stumbled across an almost legendary Class 5 battleship, but he’s not going to complain. The only problem is, all its crew are dead, all except for one strange, new alien being.

She calls herself Rose. She seems small and harmless, but less and less about her story is adding up, and Dav has a bad feeling his crew, and maybe even the four planets, are in jeopardy. The Class 5’s owners, the Tecran, look set to start a war to get it back and Dav suspects Rose isn’t the only alien being who survived what happened on the Class 5. And whatever else is out there is playing its own games.

In this race for the truth, he’s going to have to go against his leaders and trust the dark horse.

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