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Julie Doe

The Challenge - Susan Kearney I remember being excited when Tor announced (several years ago) it had a paranormal romance line, so I looked for something from it. I found this book. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that I had read another book by this author and hated it. This one is better, but it still has some big flaws, in my opinion.

Tessa Camen is a Secret Service agent who throws herself in front of a bullet meant for the (female) President of the United States and is whisked out of time and into the future just before the bullet's lethal impact. She wakes up naked in the arms of Kahn, an alien hunk who tells her that she has been selected to be Earth's representative in something called the Challenge. He can't tell her anything about the Challenge--neither what she has to do nor when it will take place.

Tessa meets the qualifications of a candidate for the Challenge: she has no living family, she has no scientific background, and she is a virgin. *snort* OK, the first two I could buy with a little more salesmanship from the author. But virginity? Good grief. No explanation for this is ever given, and to make this requirement even more inane, it is later revealed that Tessa only has to be a virgin when she is chosen, not when she actually performs the Challenge. You can see where this is going, right?

Needless to say, Tessa and Kahn have sex quite a few times before the Challenge begins.

Kahn tells Tessa that if she wins the Challenge, Earth gets a trial membership in the Federation of Planets, and Kahn's people, the Rystanis, get permanent membership because of his assistance. Kahn tells Tessa that to win the Challenge, she must discover and master her innate psi ability--something Tessa swears she doesn't have.

Kahn decides that the best way for Tessa to discover her psi powers is by making her sexually frustrated. [At this point, this book sustained its first damage after colliding with my bedroom wall.] When Tessa was transported through time, Kahn took her clothes and replaced them with a psi-powered "suit" like all inhabitants of this future Federation of Planets wear (it's one the big benefits of membership--along with ...) . The suit is never removed. It can be made to appear as any type of clothing, and it automatically recycles human waste. It can also be warmed (or cooled) by psi-powers, allowing the user to to run about in the snow without additional clothes. How does miracle of conception take place, I wonder? Too bad the book never tells me.

Anyway, Kahn instructs Tessa's suit to stimulate her by "touching" her in inappropriate places. A kiss here, a fondle there. Oh goody, high-tech sexual abuse. [More damage to the book occurs. This seems to be a recurring theme in Ms. Kearney's books.]

In the time between Tessa's selection and the actual Challenge, the couple has time to travel to the home world of the Federation of Planets and then to Kahn's planet. Along the way, the couple gets married and has sex and has more sex. By the time the Challenge occurs, it is almost an afterthought to the story. One of the more ridiculous sequences involving Kahn and the group use of psi powers occurs during this part of the story.

Kahn is a jerk with a arrogant and backward attitude towards women. He treats Tessa like a child, and when she does something (which made a lot of sense to me) that doesn't fit with his plans (which he didn't tell her), he retaliates by not letting her speak for a day. When she can speak again, what does she do? Tell him off? Hit him with a clue-by-four? No, she seduces him. [More damage to both the book and my wall.]

This relationship is dysfunctional from start to finish. And that is too bad, because when Tessa isn't caving in to Kahn's macho demands, she is rather likeable. The non-romance subplots--which include an AI that has sex on the brain and Tessa's business dealings with an octpus-like alien--are far more engaging.

This was a story that could have been so much more than it was. If you like caveman alpha heroes, you'll like this one. If you like men who respect women, this one should be a pass.

I have read the other books in the series, and I liked subsequent ones much better, mostly because the heroes were more likeable and less control freaks.