Review of THE CHALLENGE by Susan Kearney (see her website)
TOR, February 2005
Secret Service Agent Tessa Camen throws herself between an assassin and the President she's sworn to defend--and wakes up three centuries later in the arms of an alien hunk. Earth is in trouble, nearly destroyed by pollution. And humanity has decided to pin all of its hopes on Tessa. If she can conquer the 'challenge,' Earth will be admitted as a provisional member of the Federation--and have access to the technology it needs to restore the world. If she fails, she'll die--and Earth will eventually die as well. To face the challenge, though, she needs to develop her PSI powers--powers she's certain she doesn't have. And only the hunky but painfully traditional (and not too smart) Kahn can help.
Tessa spends the first half the book in denial, trying to find some way to avoid the challenge. Meanwhile Kahn attempts the traditional means of opening a female's PSI powers--sexual stimulation. Kahn keeps Tessa at the brink of orgasm, without letting her have any satisfaction. Only Tessa's final rebellion, which puts her under a death sentence that can only be averted by their marriage, convinces him that the traditional approach isn't working. Still, dare he use the techniques he'd use for another man--stressing combat rather than sex?
Author Susan Kearney combines steamy sex with SF themes in an attempt that falls a bit short of its potential but that still makes enjoyable reading. Avoiding the 'too stupid to live heroine' problem, Kearney creates a hero with the same attributes. Shown time and again that Tessa is a capable person, deserving to be treated as an equal, Kahn refuses to recognize the facts. It's great that Tessa stands up to him, but would an intelligent woman like her really respond to him so strongly?
Kearney does a great job with the action scenes. The challenge, when it finally occurs, is definitely enjoyable. The erotic scenes are steamy, but I found it hard to understand the appeal that Khan offers--unless it's a purely physical thing.
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