Grimspace by Ann Aguirre
Sirantha Jax is a Jumper; someone who has the right genetic make-up to “see” Grimspace, the otherspatial dimension that allows rapid ftl flight, and guide a pilot safely through it. Except when they don’t, of course. Jumping is stressful on the Jumper, and there’s a high burnout rate; few Jumpers live to a ripe old age and at 33, Jax is considered pretty old for a Jumper. Jumpers and Pilots spend their time on ship literally in each other’s heads; it isn’t very surprising then that they spend a lot of time in each other’s beds, as well. Jax and her Pilot, Kai, were lovers. Now, he is dead, killed in a crash of which Jax herself was the only survivor. The Farwan Corporation, “a company so large, it essentially became a galactic government”, which controls the training and holds the contracts of all Jumpers, is holding her on one of its stations while its psych people try to find out what went wrong and whether Jax herself is responsible for the crash. And she endures the suspicion, because she’s wondering herself, and anyway, where else can she go?
Then a strange man comes into her quarters/cell, and offers to take her away from all this. Jax is surprised to find that she is ready to go. The man’s name is March, and he is a mercenary of sorts, retrieving her to help with someone else’s plan. He has put together a rag-tag crew, including Dina, ship’s mechanic, Saul, the doctor and the only person on the ship not a sarcastic SOB, and Loras, whose role remains unclear for a while. There was also Edaine, a Jumper, who died on the flight in, and Jemus, the pilot, who dies in the hail of fire as March and Jax approach the ship. Fortunately, March is a pilot so they can escape from the station; unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to like Jax very much, and they are about to work very closely together indeed. Oh, and March appears to be able to read her mind, at least when she’s pissed at him.
It turns out that March is working for a clan on a backwater planet (for reasons that, we later learn, have nothing to do with money) who have an ambitious plan to create their own Jumper Academy and challenge Farwan at its own game. This will involve traveling to a series of other worlds to find candidates, and that is where things start to go really wrong.
Before it’s over, Jax will have to figure out what’s going on with March, what’s going on with her and March, and whether she actually caused the crash that started all this off or if, in fact, something darker is going on.
Because I read so many books, I have to find new authors a lot. On the other hand, there’s a lot of crap out there, so I approach new authors with care. Grimspace was a pleasant surprise; I like most of the characters we’re supposed to like (even the minor ones) and hated the ones we’re supposed to hate. Aguirre has no problem throwing challenges at her characters, and I was genuinely worried a couple of times. Everything wraps up well, and competently. WARNING! WARNING! Romance.
*I was going to go with “Jax in a box” as a title, but since half the plot seems to be about getting Jax out of a (metaphorical) box, I decided to go with the poker metaphor instead. History will show if I did the right thing . . .