TracingTheStars.com received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was a solid four-star read for me. Great plot, great characters, excellent world building an enough romantic elements to make me smile without making me feel gooey. There were elements, however, that just didn't quite reach the 'this this total awesomesauce!' five star territory for me. It was close, but I don't give half-stars. Let me explain.
The world building in this book is done through mild contextual clues, well written details and subtle asides, and there is a lot of world-building in this book. The reader starts off on an unfamiliar planet in an unfamiliar galaxy, which I can only assume is somewhere far-far-away. The situation, however, is one the reader can probably relate to - being stuck on a plane that has been delayed take-off for over an hour. The plane is a surface-to-orbit starship, but the idea and feelings are the same. Disgruntled passengers, people worried about missing their connecting flights (in this case, it's worrying about making it on board the Nebula Dream cruise ship that is waiting in space), parents dealing with kids, and flight attendants dolling out the complimentary drinks to try and appease.
I appreciated these little familiar bits, even if everything had an alien twist. The delayed take off gives the author a chance to introduce the main character, Nick, and we learn that he is not getting on the Nebula Dream by choice. He is a special forces captain who has been discharged and is being sent home by the quickest route possible, which just happens to be on the maiden voyage of the Nebula Dream, a cruise ship that is planning to break a speed record despite it's less than complete state of construction.
Sound familiar? A common man among rich people and nobility boarding, by chance, a ship trying to go too fast on it's maiden voyage despite being incomplete. Yes, Wreck of the Nebula Dream is a loose retelling of the Titanic story. Luckily, Nick is a much stronger character than DiCaprio's Jack. So, what about Rose? You can't have a Titanic story without a girl, right?
We meet Mara on the same delayed flight, but unlike the socialite Rose who is trying to pander to her parent's wishes while rebelling against them, Mara is a self-supporting business woman with brains to go right along with her beauty. That beauty and her business demeanor stands out to Nick from the beginning, and he admires her from a far and through a couple of brief conversations. There aren't any sparks, possessive callings, tingles or love-at-first-sight tropes you often get with SFR, and I appreciated this. Their relationship develops naturally, by chance, and as they are thrown together to work through a crisis.
So far so good, right? And it is! There were just some bumps, mostly to do with the pacing, flow and dripping detailed world building that had me holding back on five stars.
Although there is action during the delayed flight via a crazy pregnant lady wielding a knife, it felt like it took forever for them to actually reach the Dream. Once on board, it seemed like Nick wandered around the ship a bit lost for a while before anything interesting happened. This did give the reader some set up as to the incomplete state of the ship, but it just felt like it dragged a little in places. I think it might be because some of the descriptions felt heavy to me, but I am admittedly a dialogue and character reader.
Some of the world-building was also a little jarring. This is a complex and unique universe, heavy in history, different alien cultures, technology and customs. There was no hand holding as far as the world building goes. You are dumped into the deep end with a couple pool-noodles as contextual clues, and asked to swim. You experience things as Nick experiences them, with Nick's knowledge of his universe intact. Sometimes this worked really well, but other times I felt myself floundering a little and having to reread sections after figuring out what Nick already knew to be understood.
All in all, this is a very strong science fiction read with a believable romantic element, an interesting plot, well constructed universe and characters you can easily appreciate and relate to.