Mercury in Retrograde is very much a romance novel – yes, it has a sci fi setting but all the romance conventions are here: lack of hard science, no edginess, sweet personalities, misunderstandings coming in the way of true love, and a focus on relationships rather than conflict. It made the writing problematic for me: about half way through, too many plot points felt either very deus ex machina or completely unlikely/unrealistic/unlikely. As a result, i couldn’t get into what felt like fake characters in a very bog-standard tepid romantic genre plot. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate romance in the sci fi genre. But I also expect the intelligent and intricate plotting as well.
Story: Aralyn is a small time smuggler who ran away from her family’s fortune in order to chart her own course in life. Bitter after a betrayal by her lover landed her in prison for several years, she’s now free and about to do a job for a former prisonmate that will give her enough money to start again. Unfortunately, things are never as easy as they seem – she’ll have to partner up with another con, face her former lover who now works for the law, and deal with betrayal after betrayal as she finds herself deep in over her head.
We have three main characters – Aralyn, her ex boyfriend Caden, and Kita (a hacker, natch, because this is sci fi) – but the POV is only from Aralyn. We’re expected to believe that she had a very hard time in a top prison yet Aralyn seems pretty well adjusted and surprisingly trusting. I just didn’t believe she’d have lasted five minutes there – and even then, not so emotionally stable afterwards. Caden, as a love interest, is fine if bland. It’s obvious from the onset that he’s a good guy and that she has completely misinterpreted the situation. That she doesn’t trust him at all but seems to trust every other person blindly didn’t make sense other than to set up a reason for her and Caden to not get back together again immediately. Of course, it’s yet another case where one person just telling the truth would make this a 10 page book instead of 300.
The deus ex machina was strong here. From a prison that they immediately escape easily (through a person-sized pipe in their cell ceiling?!?) to Aralyn happening to partner up with a hacker in the same cell- just the person she needs to fix her problems and ensure the second part of the escape. It was incredibly convenient all around. Of course, both Kita and Aralyn have perfect excuses for being on the wrong side of the law; I miss the days when we could have an antihero or a character with depth and a questionable conscience. Both women were pure enough to have little birds braiding their hair in the morning, Disney fashion.
I have to admit, I just got bored half way through. I couldn’t invest in the plot or the characters because they felt too much like archetypes. Plotting 101 and romance novel heroine and hero 101. That doesn’t mean this is a terrible book; I think for undemanding readers, it would be an enjoyable Summer read. But I’ve read enough books now to want more than the bog standard that is Mercury Retrograde. I hope for a hook or angle to make the book unique and not another romance novel retread: character names and settings changed. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.