Rating: 4.25 stars
R’kos is the youngest child of the Emperor of Ankylos and the most different. Unlike his brothers and sisters, he has an adventurous nature and no desire to enter into the standard triad marriage of their species. As the time for his arranged marriage draws near, R’los commandeers a family shuttle and heads out into space, eventually landing on Elora Ki. R’kos is in search of human male companionship. Just their smell so intrigues R’kos that he ends up in a bar, sniffing each human who comes in. But the Ankylos sense of smell is so acute that he can smell hate, fear, corruption along with kindness, love, lust and happiness. So far, no one smell has agreed with him. Until Darien enters asking the barkeep for help.
Darien Lancaster is the son of a wealthy industrialist. His father shipped him off to become a miner when he found out that Darien was gay but he escaped, traveling the galaxy under assumed names and trading illegally to make a living. Darien hates what his father’s businesses have done to people, including inflicting an incurable disease on miners. To counteract his father’s actions, Darien has become something of a Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and buying goods for the poor and sick. Now he owes money to an infamous drug dealer who is hunting him down. Just when he thinks he is cornered a hooded stranger comes to his rescue. The stranger? R ‘kos whom Darien calls Ricky. It takes both their efforts to get off planet where Ricky accompanies Darien on his trade routes. Ricky is having the time of his life and Darien is coming to depend on Ricky for friendship and then so much more. It’s not just passion they feel for each other but love. Then Ricky is injured and Darien must contact the people who seek to lock him up. Darien will risk everything to save Ricky and he must convince Ricky’s father and the Alliance that Ricky was not kidnapped, a crime which could send Darien to prison for the rest of his life.
I will admit that R’kos and I got off to a shaky start. I mean really, a lavender Mr. Clean? With purple eyes and a nose in overdrive? And yes, there’s that misunderstood thief with a heart of gold, who just needs someone to love and believe in him. Cliche territory seemed to surround me. And then, none of that mattered. Both R’kos ne Ricky and Darien got to me, I fell in love with both of them, found some really nice plot details and ended up being swept away on the journey with them. *shakes head*. Usually I go on about great characterization, or personas flatter than a frozen pancake but here I am just going to say I loved these two, not really sure why they captured my heart. I only know they did. I cared for them despite his oddball coloring which was never completely explained or why a herbivore has a hive structure for their species. Interesting details though they didn’t make sense to my naturalist mind. Didn’t matter. See what I mean? I loved that big hairless Ricky who wanted more from life than any other Ankylos and went out to find it. And ended up meeting Darien who is trying to make up for the pain and suffering his father inflicted on his brother and others. Darien is so alone that he captures both our understanding as well as compassion. Loved him too.
I appreciated how Burn gave us an updated Robin Hood in space as well as a horrific reason that Darien chose to become an illegal trader. The creation of a disease that so alters the human minors that they become gnarled twisted mindless beings called Chimera is horrific. Black lung, asbestos, leprosy and more jumped immediately to mind. Burn took those and then added even more symptoms to give us an interplanetary disease of nightmares. And then made it personal to Darien and the reader. Great job. Some science fiction stories only tweak one or two things, put it on a spaceship and expect it to be real science fiction. No that does not make a story credible science fiction. Give us world building, new species and make it seem realistic or possible. And that definitely occurred here. So believable that I am with Darien about living on Ankylos. I felt his panic along with him. It was just too alien, the complete lack of privacy unnerving and Darien knew he would not be able to adjust. I found that credible too because I wouldn’t either.
To me, there is really only one substantial mistep. KC Burns tells us of the big rift between the speciies over a mineral called Wolframite, in fact, the very lack of the mineral caused a protracted war between the Alliance (humans) and Ankylos with huge losses on both sides. It is a major plot point in this story so imagine my astonishment upon finding out exactly what the wolframite was needed for. I won’t tell you but to me it showed an amazing disregard to prior story elements, especially considering the substantial impact on the characters and interspecies relations the war had and all for a throwaway bit of humor. Why that was not caught and pointed out to the author who hadn’t shown too many errors up until then I will never know. Getting past that plot pothole, than my one last quibble is one of backstory. Darien’s brother became a Chimera and Darien has been looking for him as he has travelled. I would have liked more of that history. Perhaps KC Burns will give us a sequel and another journey for Darien and Ricky. I would love a second visit to their universe. But no more overly “cutsey” elements, they aren’t needed. You have a good story, trust that to be enough. So I do recommend this but let me know what you think. Can you fall in love with characters just because? Either way, I hope to see these again.