by Michelle Diener
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.
Rose is a human who was stolen from Earth, along with a seven animals and birds, by the Tecran, a brutal alien species. The Tecran are members of the United Council that includes four other strong, advanced civilizations, but the Tecran do not always follow rules. It is forbidden to take alien life forms from their home planet and abuse them as the Tecran have done with Rose.
Rose spent months in a cage deep in the Tecran ship until she escaped with the help of a powerful ally. Sazo was also a prisoner as the artificial intelligence trapped and controlled by the Tecran. Rose and Sazo help each other and Sazo arranges to get Rose rescued by Grih because Sazo thinks Rose might find a place to fit in with the somewhat similar Grih.
Dav Jallan, Captain of a Grih explorer ship, stumbles upon a Tecran Class 5 battleship that is within Grih territory where is doesn’t belong. Dav is prepared for a fierce battle as the Tecran are exceedingly protective of their Class 5 ships with their superior technology. The Grih are utterly shocked to be able to board the Tecran ship and equally shocked to determine that two escaping shuttles have seven ‘orange’ life signatures. An orange is a living organism that is not a species recognized by the explorers. They have not seen an orange for over 500 years and they have never heard of an orange that is sentient to the extent of Rose. The Grih should be frightened by Rose, and some are. But most of them are fascinated and awed, especially when they learn she sings which is a rare gift among their people.
The Tecran have been caught in their crimes but they still try to conceal the highly secret nature of the power of the Class 5 ships. Someone on Dav’s ship is apparently helping the enemy and attempts to kill Rose. Dav should protect his crew and race above all else but he finds himself irresistibly drawn to protect Rose even as he realizes that she is hiding some major secret from him.
Ms. Diener did a remarkable job of world building and I found the world and aliens fascinating. I was extremely impressed and engaged by the characters and plot. Sazo is a great character with complexities of an AI who befriends a human who is able to give balance to his temper and power control tendencies. Rose and Dav are wonderful primary characters and the secondary characters are well developed to add detail and depth to the story. The interaction between Dav and his crew members, superiors and diplomats, is very well done.
I enjoyed the “dark horse” feature that provided the title. The story includes many genre elements as there is plenty of action, intrigue, suspense, charm and a little bit of romance. I want to read more by Ms. Diener as I really loved this book from beginning to end. I highly recommend it to a variety of readers.
I selected this at NetGalley and it is part of my NetGalley Challenge.