Book Review: Black Smoke by Robin Leigh Millerbook reviews, Featured — By Dorothy Thompson on April 27, 2010 at 9:01 am
Reviewed by Lucinda Gunnin
Samantha Wells has lived through more hell in her short life than most. At the age of eight her serene life was turned upside down. Her parents were brutally murdered and Sam barely escaped with her life. But she didn’t do it alone — a soft calm voice led her to safety, the voice of her spirit guide. Disguised by a black mask and the handle Black Smoke, with the help of her spirit guide Sam rescues those unfortunate people who find themselves in the hands of humanity’s worst. Life is good until Sam is called on to assist a small covert military team in recovering a kidnapped scientist in Afghanistan. Lt. Mark Lowe (Kong) is less than thrilled to be placing his team’s lives in the hands of a woman, much less one as beautiful and sexy as Sam. He quickly learns there is more to this woman than meets the eye. She not only infiltrates enemy bases — she’s infiltrated his heart. Kong retreats to safer ground, leaving Sam heartbroken. Distant and unwilling to listen to anyone, Sam delves headfirst into a hell that only Kong can pull her from.
Black Smoke follows some of the basic plot points of your average romance novel: girl meets boy, they fall in love and then something goes terribly awry, but after that all similarities are merely coincidental. When Samantha, a covert operative using the code name Black Smoke, meets her man, instead of a corporate boardroom or luxury playground, they meet on a mock battlefield where Samantha defeats a team of special forces agents. Sam is the kind of woman that not just earns the respect of those who know the real woman, but also demands it, and Kong, aka Mark Lowe, is definitely not ready for the sparks that fly between him and the masked victor. Neither is she.
Once their employer has convinced the soldiers to accept a well-trained, but non-military woman in their midst to mount a rescue effort for civilian kidnapped in Afghanistan, Black Smoke makes a serious departure from mainstream romance novels, delving into the issues of the war and the mistreatment of women there. As if Sam weren’t having enough trouble getting Mark comfortable with having a woman in their midst, she also has the benefit and problem of her spirit guide, the inner voice that has been helping her accomplish her missions for almost two decades. When her spirit guide helps Sam keep the unit out of an ambush, Mark demands an explanation. Sam’s spirit guide pushes the young woman to reveal more of her soul to Mark and things heat up between the two just as they go in to rescue the hostage. Sam discovers that in addition to the male captive they knew they were rescuing, the Afghani kidnappers also are torturing a woman they have kidnapped. The knowledge and the woman’s cries of pain bring Sam’s past rushing back and she endangers herself and her team because she is obsessed with saving the young woman.
The best thing about Black Smoke is that Robin Leigh Miller weaves Sam’s spirit guide into the story so flawlessly that even the rational reader is left believing in the supernatural. While the guide gives Sam hints about what is happening around her and warnings about her enemies, we are reminded throughout the novel that ultimately Sam is simply a well-trained operative, not a superhero. Her insecurities and loneliness keep her from being too perfect. Mark and his teammates, Ricochet and Boomer, are flawed as well, with good hearts, making it easy for the reader to understand Sam’s attraction and to want to hear their stories as well. Miller’s novels about Ricochet and Boomer are sequels to Black Smoke and currently available as e-books.
Black Smoke is engaging and warm, an action adventure with a romance or perhaps a romance with an action adventure. An afternoon spent with Sam and the boys is a chance to see Miller’s underlying commentary on the interaction between the sexes without some in-your-face preaching about equality and to relax with a good book. The book is well-edited and well-written with an engaging contemporary tale.