Note: Contains spoilers for the first book, so read that first.
This is the second book in Bachar’s science fiction romance series, and it lives up to the same things that I enjoyed in Relaunch Mission. Contingency Plan focuses on Security Chief Ryder and Pilot Jiang. While they are off on their own through much of the book, the bigger picture, and the crew I would otherwise have missed, have their own roles to play.
As with the first, there is explicit sex mixed into a science fiction story about corrupt governments and independents trying to weed out the corruption while struggling to stay alive when targeted by this rogue element. I felt the romance story was better integrated into this book than the first, which may be me getting used to the crossover, but the relationship barriers were directly related to the themes of the science fiction story and had a direct impact on what was going on around them.
Jiang can’t move forward until she knows who, and what, she really is. Ryder can’t see himself as whole until he reconciles with the loss of his arm, a long overdue healing he’d avoided originally because he got a near perfect prosthetic soon after his injury. Ryder’s been attracted to Jiang from the start, but only now does he see a role in her life. He is her protector when what Jiang intended for a solo quest for the crew’s safety is denied by Ryder who won’t let her go alone. This need, on top of his self-worth issues, provides only one of the complications that stand between them, the first being a simple tradition of finding company outside of the crew to avoid difficulties if they break up.
Jiang’s mission to uncover her forgotten past blends well into the overall story because who she is and what she has been opens doors to information that would otherwise have been inaccessible. This means that though Ryder and Jiang spend much of the book on their own, their actions directly affect the effort to discover the location of a weapon so powerful the soviets are willing to kill to keep it hidden and the Alliance is as well, for their own reasons.
The portrayal of the soviets was the one sour note for me as it felt a little stereotypical, especially considering how gray the Alliance behavior is proving to be. It’s also expressed by rejecting something that should be considered a strength–reusing a design after perfecting it instead of creating something new each time–but I figure this is a personal sore spot.
There was so much more to love in the story. For example, Jiang’s relationships with the ships she flies is beautiful to behold. Watching Ryder struggle with his big, hulking guy protective complex over tiny, but deadly, Jiang is also lovely. He recognizes the need to be her partner not her protector, but still fights with instincts equating size with strength. There’s a wonderful thread related to this about assumptions that has a terrifying twist.
On an odd side note, the subtle cultural references are great. People who don’t get them won’t have to in order to enjoy the story, but if you do get them, it adds a level to the humor that’s fun. While this might seem out of place in a far future novel, especially considering some key moments in Earth history have shifted, Ryder loves Earth history and is trying to get Jiang to share this obsession, so it’s character appropriate.
The end could have been stronger, but this is a middle book so it makes sense the way it came together. This is a good story touching on sense of self, PTSD, and choices, especially in the terms of agency as Jiang learns the extent to which hers has been taken away and what she wants to do with that knowledge.
P.S. I received this ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.