Removing the Mask: A Review of Chaos Reigning, by Jessie Mihalik

There are times when you pick up a book expecting to be surprised.  You look forward to twists and turns to keep you on your toes.  Insurmountable odds that the main characters must struggle to overcome, coupled with prose posing philosophical debates about the characters actions.  These are books that are meant to bring you out of your comfort zone.  However, especially in this day and age, we could use a bit of comfort.  Jessie Mihalik’s Consortium Rebellion trilogy, culminating in Chaos Reigning, is the comfort food of science-fiction.  You go into the third novel knowing what you want and what you expect from this series.  A cool heroine who learns to embrace her abilities and find her confidence, a steamy romance with a considerate and strong man, and a healthy dose of sci-fi adventure.

With this trilogy, Mihalik established a formula that ties each novel together in a way that makes returning to the series feel familiar.  Even if a year passes between reading book one and two, it is an easy series to pick back up again.  In the entry novel, Polaris Rising, Mihalik introduces us to the setting and characters who will define the trilogy.  Far in the future, the Milky Way is ruled by the High Houses of the Consortium.  Nobles constantly jockeying for power but always avoiding outright conflict.  Ada is one of the daughters of House Von Hasenberg and ran away from home before the first novel began to escape an arranged marriage.  On her adventure, she encounters the mysterious super soldier and accused mass murderer Loch, the two fall deeply and passionately in love, and discover a plot by rival House Rockhurst that could tip the balance of power in their favor.  In the follow, Aurora Blazing, Mihalik switches the point-of-view to Ada’s sister, Bianca.  We learn that Bianca was experimented upon by her dead husband, resulting in fragile health and tremendous technological abilities.  After her oldest brother is kidnapped, Bianca teams up with super solder and head of security Ian, falling deeply and passionately in love, and runs against a power mafia-like organization called the Syndicate.

Chaos Reigning introduces us to yet another Von Hasenberg sister, Catarina, or Cat for short.  Cat is the youngest of the Von Hasenberg siblings, and more than a little babied by her brothers and sisters.  As the youngest of the children, she knows she will never be seriously considered as a power player but wants to prove that is more than capable.  While her older siblings excelling in strategy, hacking, leadership, and adventure, Cat focuses on political intrigue back at home.  While she is thought by most people, including her own family, to be flirty, fun, and not too bright, Chaos Reigning quickly reveals that this is far from the case.  Wearing the mask of a party girl, Cat is able to get people to lower their guards around her and potentially let slip information they would have otherwise guarded.  Very few people, including her best friend and rival, Ying Yamado, know the truth about her personality.  Despite her talent with her mask, Cat chafes in her role and wants nothing more to be trusted and relied upon by her family.

Cat’s love interest is Alexander “Alex” Sterling, actually introduced in the previous novel, Aurora Blazing, as a mercenary hired by Bianca to help find her kidnapped brother.  Along with his partner, Aoife, and Bianca’s love, Ian, Alex is another member of the super solder squad that served under Loch from Polaris Rising, a continuing coincidence that is never remarked upon.  It can be said that the Von Hasenberg sisters all have similar, quality taste in men.  Alex is hired by Bianca to help Cat in her investigation to find out who was behind their brother’s kidnapping in the previous novel, and immediately becomes attracted to Cat.  The two characters are more similar than they originally believe, both having to wear public masks, although for differing reasons.  The connection grows deeper once Cat reveals that she is also a victim of genetic experimentation, gaining many of the same physical abilities that the super solders possess.  Over the course of the novel, Alex proves himself to be self-assured, kind, caring, and infinitely respectful of Cat’s boundaries.  That is not to say that the attraction is one-sided.  Before we even meet Alex in the novel, Cat confides in an internal monologue that she saw him at a bar and was instantly smitten.  The romance is there from page one.

As mentioned previously, romance is absolutely central to the novels of the Consortium Rebellion trilogy.  More than the science-fiction, political intrigue, or adventure aspects, this is a series of romance novels, and the romance is handled very differently from most main-stream books.  For one, you will find a refreshing lack of euphemisms when it comes to sex, and the intimate scenes are written so well that the characters’ passion and love is easily felt.  In many ways, the romance between Cat and Alex, along with the heroines of the previous two novels, is the ideal romance.  It reinforces the idea that consent, especially enthusiastic consent, is the most attractive thing in the world.  Boundaries and never overstepped, and Alex and Cat take great care to always make sure that the other is one hundred percent comfortable with what is happening.  The simple act of asking for permission is something sorely missing in many literary relationships.  The two lovers are constantly thinking about their partner and what they can do to ensure they feel safe and comfortable.  The only complaint I could voice about the trilogy is that the three central romances are all heterosexual.  However, that may be changing with Mihalik’s books moving forward, as there is a suggestion of a lesbian romance developing between supporting characters Ying and Aoife by the end of Chaos Reigning.

Aside from the romance between Cat and Alex, Chaos Reigning is also about the Syndicate’s plot coming to fruition.  While Cat and her siblings and off-planet investigating a possible connection between the Syndicate and traitorous noble houses, the Syndicate takes the opportunity to launch a devastating attack on Earth, taking control of the capital and the hyperspace gateways which allow travel between the solar systems.  Cat is able to escape an attempt on her life with Alex, Aoife, and Ying and sneak back to Earth in an attempt to retake the hyperspace gates and allow her sibling, and their armies, to return.  The book makes it very clear that the Syndicate was only successful because they snuck in and took control of the command center of Earth’s defenses.  Any real resistance from the military would result in their swift defeat.  In fact, there is never a real sense of danger, even in the face of the most high-stakes conflict of the trilogy.  We know the main characters are going to win, and we know that Cat and Alex will have their happily-ever-after.  No one main characters die in the fighting, and even major injuries are received from quickly due to a bit of sci-fi nonsense in the form of medical nanomachines.  But Mihalik knows why we are reading this book and understands that the action is really just a backdrop for what matters: the characters. 

 If you love science-fiction, and even if you do not, I recommend Chaos Reigning and the rest of the Consortium Rebellion trilogy.  An extremely fun series with a satisfying conclusion, even if it does leave me wanting to see these sisters and their lovers go on even more adventures.  These are some of the best books to read right now, with the state of the world as it is.  We could all use something comfortable and fun.  Luckily, Jessie Mihalik is far from done.  Chaos Reigning ends with an announcement that her next novel is coming in 2022, featuring a fierce, female intergalactic bounty hunter.  While I hope that the new book is a follow up this trilogy, we can be certain that Mihalik will have another fun, romantic adventure ready for us.

Chaos Reigning can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold

Total Read Time: 9 days

Next on the List: Battle Grounds, by Jim Butcher

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