Depths of Blue by Lise MacTague (book one in the Deception’s Edge series) belongs to a few genres I don’t normally read: military science fiction, and romance. So I honestly wasn’t quite sure how much I would like this novel when I picked it up having been generously sent it by the Winnipeg-born, US-residing author (whose other talents as described in her bio, I might add, include being a librarian and hockey player). I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Depths of Blue: while it never did anything totally unexpected, I rather enjoyed going along on its smooth, well-trod road full of tropes like: mistaken identities, space opera-ish drama, mounting sexual tension, women passing as men in the army, big patriarchal bad guys, and that-thin-line-between-love-and-hate. Oh, and some pretty steamy sex scenes.
So here’s the set-up: outer space, way far in the future after humans have colonized other planets—although some of the societies look eerily like versions of Trump’s America. Jak Stowell is from one of these worlds, although from the more progressive half which has been at civil war with the really really bad patriarchal dudes for decades. She’s a soldier in her country’s army, a sniper. No one, now that her brother is dead, knows she’s a woman. His death has given her a war within a war to fight: she’s determined to find her brother’s killer in enemy ranks and bring him to justice. She’s stoic, rational, and used to keeping all her emotions and true thoughts under wraps; she hasn’t let anyone get close for ages.
Torrin Ivanov is pretty much her opposite (of course, we’re setting up for the opposites-attract romance here). She’s a bad-ass, motorcycle-riding, outspoken, openly lesbian illegal arms dealer who flies from galaxy to galaxy negotiating and selling her way to the big bucks. Morals aren’t exactly a priority for her. In fact, when she and Jak cross paths, Torrin had gotten herself into a dilly of pickle after having intended to sell weapons to the creepy rapist dude bros Jak’s army is fighting [definite trigger warning in some early sections for strong allusions to rape]. Jak’s mission had been to kill the arms dealer, but no one had told her—or even realized—that this dealer was a woman. Jak can’t bring herself to do it.
Ah, so we have the old “assassin-falls-in-love-with-the-person-they-were-supposed-to-kill.” It’s classic, but it’s also a lot of fun. The main tension of the romance, of course, is that Torrin is a lesbian and Jak is a woman disguised as a man, but neither of them are aware of this. Torrin is feeling oddly attracted to Jak but very puzzled as to why she likes this apparently male person. Jak is totally falling for Torrin but thinking that there is no way Torrin could ever love her when she finds out Jak is not a man.
For the most part I really enjoyed the layers of the romance element in Depths of Blue and had lots of fun reading those parts. I do think, however, it would have been more plausible if Torrin had been bi instead of gay. I mean, if Jak passes as a man, it doesn’t really make sense to me that Torrin would be attracted to her, unless you believe in some kind of gender essentialism where you can just “feel” what someone’s true gender identity is even though they’re trying to hide it. Admittedly, this is also my own bisexual agenda. But why not, I say?
This book does a fine job of balancing the romance and military action as Torrin and Jak make their way back to Jak’s side of the civil war and figure out how the hell they’re going to recover Torrin’s ship—trapped within enemy lines—so she can get off the planet. Oh yeah, and somewhere along the way they figure out they’re head over heels for each other. It’s fun, it’s escapist, it’s got some well-done sexy times: what more could you ask for? Depths of Blue does a great job pulling together lots of tropes you might have seen or read before and creating something new enough, but still plenty familiar.
If I could change one thing, I would have liked to see the SF setting play more of a role in the plot of the book; there are some cool details about Jak’s planet, where a lot of the plant life is blue and there are these super cool giant blue trees (hence the title), but otherwise the romance and military plots could have taken place in any 20th century war on Earth. Unfortunately, even the horrible fascist misogynists would fit right into our not-so-distant history.
Being the first book in a trilogy, Depths of Blue of course ends on a cliff-hanger, with Torrin and Jak not sure if their love or their lives are gonna make it. Maybe we’ll see more world-building-related action in the second book as they fly off into space. I can’t wait to read it!