This follow-up to Island Heat features the brother of the hero of that book. I wasn't particularly keen on the previous book, but this one is a great improvement. Set in space and on a different planet, Solar Heat examines the nature of trust between two people whose histories make them sworn enemies. It's also an uplifting story of people working together to prevent a disaster and of camaraderie among a spaceship crew.
Azsla is a First, one of the hierarchy of the planet Rama. Firsts have special powers, something called Quait which enables them to control the bodies of all the slaves on their planet. When a slave rebellion took place ten years before and a large number of slaves colonized another planet, Azsla's parents were brutally murdered in front of her by the escaping slaves. Azsla has vowed to work for the Raman authorities to return the slaves to Rama and, as part of her work to be a spy, has learned how to fight, how to pass as one of the slaves, and how to subdue her Quait so that she can
blend in with the slaves.
Azsla's mission to the slave planet Zor starts to go wrong almost immediately. Her ship is attacked, and she and her slave crewmembers have to use the escape pod, one of the crewmembers giving up his pod space for her and thus being killed. Azsla finds herself feeling responsible for the slaves when their pods are picked up by a mining ship, and these feelings continue and strengthen
when they arrive on Zor and Azsla starts to carry out her plan of sabotage. Unfortunately the boss of the mining company that picked her up, Derrek Archer, has somehow gotten under her skin. He hates Firsts with a passion as they have ruined his life, yet as they grow closer to each other, Azsla knows that she is living a huge lie that will make him hate her. When an asteroid threatens the planet Zor, Azsla is the only person with the knowledge to make the weapon to destroy it, but proving that she is a First may destroy her relationship. Derrek has to learn to trust someone who has lied to him, and they both have to learn to trust the strange alien voice that seems to be communicating with them telepathically.
This enjoyable story features good pacing, interesting characters, and a well-drawn world. Many authors might have dwelled too
much on the disagreements between Azsla and Derrek when her secret is revealed, but Susan Kearney handles it well, showing how people in love might be able to understand difference and to see the good in each other. There
is minimal reference made to the previous book; the characters in it are only obliquely mentioned, so Solar Heat should be easy to understand for someone approaching this story without having read the other. All in all, a very good read.