What Captain Eva Inocente lacks in restraint, trepidation and doubt, she certainly makes up for in determination and heart—not literally, as the (space) sailor-mouthed, confident explorer sports a mechanical heart implant, a constant reminder of missions gone horribly awry. The protagonist of Chilling Effect, Valerie Valdes’ new space opera, is as resourceful as she is impulsive, and her loyalty knows no bounds once it sets anchor. Eva is comprised of many vivid layers, as colorful as her abounding cache of Spanish curses. And the vulnerable and emotional facets of her person prove that a futuristic mechanical heart does not prohibit one from developing or expressing strong emotions.
The settings of Chilling Effect are vast and change often, and the cast of characters is constantly expanding, from our many introductions to various alien life forms to fluctuations in Eva’s crew, including her incessantly shifting lists of friends and foes. But Eva soon learns that sometimes your chosen family is worth just as many—or more—sacrifices as your biological one. Eva’s fiery spark of devotion and spirit will keep readers captivated until the very last page of this winding, backtracking and space-jumping ride. Her unmitigated connection to her Cuban roots also remains a steadfast joy, from both her many untranslated Spanish lines to her undying love for guava, arroz con mango and piña coladas.
Eva has some proverbial skeletons in her closet (or corpses in cryogenic tanks, whichever you prefer) but she tries to focus on moving forward and surviving. The disastrous missions in her past? She’s now the reliable captain of La Sirena Negra, guiding her motley but lovable crew through the galaxy. Eva’s clean now, and has given up the blackmailing, pirating and plotting of her dark past. Family problems? All good on that front. By living her life on the space frontier, she’s fled her manipulative father, planet-bound mother and beloved but very different sister, Mari. Love? She’s living the single life, content for now, but she just can’t quite put her finger on a puzzle piece missing from her life.
Her newfound stability is turned on its head when a slew of unfortunate events occur all at once, shattering the peace she and her crew have established. A drunken rejection at a bar results in the bloodthirsty revenge of a fishy alien emperor whose name roughly translates to the Glorious Apotheosis, whose goal is to imprison Eva in his harem, even if he has to travel to the ends of the galaxy to find her. This sets into motion a string of incidents that are all too overwhelming and complicated for anyone but Eva to handle: the kidnapping of her beloved Mari; unwelcome interference from her estranged father, Pete; unveiled plans of the nefarious organization, The Fridge, which wants her hide if it can’t have her soul; and a host of dangerous and difficult missions she’s been blackmailed into to try and recover her loved ones. Add to this blend some endearing but convoluted feelings for her subordinate engineer, Vakar, an alien who exudes emotions through smell, and some equally complicated feelings for where her loyalties lie, and Eva has really found herself in quite the espectáculo de mierda.
Eva’s magnificently diverse crew comes along for the ride, including the alluring Vakar; Rebecca Jones aka Pink (a reference to her impressive dreadlocks, which complement her equally impressive cybernetic eye), a talented and wise-beyond-her-years, no-nonsense medic; Min, the sensitive pilot whose very mind is connected to the ship’s core; Leroy, a red-headed conglomeration of parts and holographic tattoos who is the strongest in body but dearly misses his moms; and a batch of psychic kittens who mostly serve as background props and humorous relief, but who nonetheless have a role to play in Eva’s chosen family.
Chilling Effect is a wild, rocky ride that reminds readers that all creatures, Earth-bound, planet-bound or not, crave the same essentials—connection, success and safety. Eva meets dinosaur-like todyks who fight over affairs and lost love, but also has to deal with her scummy ex-partner in love and crime. What she does know is that she is not the captain of her ship and the master of her fate, but she is now responsible for the lives of her families, both given and found.