Review: Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler


Rating: 5 stars

Fragile BondSniper Sergeant Marc Staille and his trusty rifle, Mat are on duty, taking down the tawnies, the native dirt-colored predators that live on the on the desert planet of Horace Deuce-Niner targeted for mining by his employer.  His job is to go in and take out any non sentient indigenous creatures that might threaten their mining operation.  Everything seems normal until his group of snipers is ambushed by the same tawnies they have been hunting, and Marc is taken captive. To Marc’s anguish and surprise, the so called “tawnies” are sentient natives, not mere “fauna” as had been determined, and he is now seen as a murderer as well as invader.

Commander Hamm Orsonna, leader of the fefa clan, had a desperate mission.  Take one of the invaders alive so it could be interrogated and that mission had to succeed at all costs.  Hamm found it hard to believe that such hairless, frail creatures could be the cause of so much death and destruction, mostly from those little metal sticks they carried.  At the high cost of the death of most of his squad, Hamm captured an invader, and found a surprise for both of them.  The furrs as Hamm’s species are called use pheromones (along with fang and claws) to control and dominate others, and when Hamm uses it on Marc, the results are quick and effective submission.  But there is surprise on Hamm’s side as well.   Marc smells different from the other invaders, a smell that compels Hamm to protect him even from other members of the fefa clan.

It soon becomes clear to Marc and Hamm, that the future of both their species might lie in their hands. it will depend on their communication skills and the fragile bond they have established with each other if they are to find a way for them to find a lasting peace and perhaps even love.

What a stunning book!  Fragile Bond is a science fiction tour de force from author Rhi Etzweiler, an amazing example of world building and character development.  Usually I start by breaking out the components of the book that I liked best but that won’t work here.  I found every aspect of Fragile Bond to be just superior, from the tight, suspenseful narrative to the superlative “alien” voice and mind set created for Hamm and his race.  I save my 5 star rating for books I want to gush over and reread often.  I want to do both for Fragile Bond.

Since we have to start somewhere, let’s start with Etzweiler’s world building.  So many things can go wrong when an author starts to create an alien world that will seem both familiar and alien at the same time.  The world must pull in the reader by its believable aspects yet still make us feel as though we are on an alien planet.  And we totally get that here.  When we first meet Sniper Marc Staille, he is on on the desert planet of Horace Deuce-Niner killing tawnies with amazing accuracy, watching them explode in a pink mist one after the other.  He is dispassionate, a soldier doing his duty, pleased with his marksmanship and his weapon, Mat.   We see the planet and its flora and fauna through his eyes, an important viewpoint because he gives the reader the story’s “human” voice.  He is, at first, our most identifiable connection and his horror at finding out that the “beasts” he has been killing so unmercifully are sentient beings becomes our horror too.  It is also his first step away from the soldier/mercenary life and mindset he has been living.  The more that Marc (and the reader) learns about the race that has captured him and its culture, the more growth he shows as an individual. This journey adds such depth and soul to the story that it alone would make the story memorable.  But Etzweiler goes further, taking us into the minds and culture of the fefa clan.

Commander Hamm Orsanna is another outstanding creation.  A race of felines or furrs, their culture is both advanced enough to have implanted linguistic translators and primal still to use pheromones to control and dominate other members of the clan, and claws and fang when pheromones aren’t sufficient.  They are a race trying to move beyond their animalistic behaviors and this first “meeting” will place untold stress and loss on beings already under duress.  Added to the anguish of the fefa clan, is the huge loss of life that Marc and his group have inflicted with their weaponry, picking them off with the ease shooting tin cans off a fence.  Etzweiler does a fantastic job of giving Hamm and his clan an alien voice and a language not always translatable, even by their own devices.  The author flips the point of view back and forth between Hamm and Marc in a necessary interplay of cultures, mission goals and racial outlook.  We are given an event or situation and then see it from both points of view, a neat balancing act that works to connect us intimately with the characters, all of the characters, and invest us emotionally in the precarious outcome on planet Horace Deuce-Niner.

And thanks to a tightly woven narrative, the suspense and anxiety levels continue to build throughout the story, the outcome is never assured of a happy ending.    Marc has a huge human contingent behind him, and although he says that the fact that an indigenous culture exists on the planet will halt things, the reader also has a vast store of knowledge of situations where that fact has rarely stopped humans at all.  Etzweiler uses this human history to ramp up the tension, as misunderstandings and events start to escalate things out of control.  I love that Etzweiler consistently uses our own knowledge of human history to increase our anxiety over the outcome of the clash of cultures and material needs while bringing us into the side of the race being invaded and exploited.

There are some wonderful secondary characters on both sides who enriched the story by their  presence and made me want to know their  history too. The author gives us at least one more indigenous races while hinting of others, that live on the planet that I wanted to know more of as well. And finally,we had a glimpse of a fascinating backstory of Marc’s employers, the trace supplied had me craving more and speculating wildly on their origin.  But did I feel that I needed any of that to fill out Fragile Bond? No, it wasn’t needed, and might have distracted us from the focus of the story.

Should this story be classified as a m/m romance?  Perhaps. There is a m/m romance here but as part of a larger story and with little sexuality attached to it.  It doesn’t need it.  This is powerful storytelling.  We have two races and two male beings meeting under the worst of circumstances.  That most primal of influences,pheromones,  will bring them together and start them on a path to mutual understanding and perhaps even love.  The story is told concisely, beautifully, and in such a way that this world and everyone you will meet on it will linger in your minds and hearts for some time to come.  Does something this great really need a category?  I don’t think so.  But it does need readers, lots of them to pass the word along.  Pick it up, immerse yourself in this world, and become a fan yourself.  I remain one and hope that someday the author will return to this planet for another walk on the alien wild side.

Cover art Petite-Madame VonApple is gorgeous and subtle.

Book Details:

ebook, 175 pages
Published February 18th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN 1937551911 (ISBN13: 9781937551919)
edition languageEnglish

Riptide Publishing buy link

Review of Emerald Fire by A. Catherine Noon and Rachel Wilder


Rating: 4.5

Keeper Teeka left his home at the Emerald Keep for his first Contract with Senior Hunter Brandt out in the deserts of their world Persis. Disaster hits only two months into his Contract when Hunter Brandt is killed on his Claim, leaving Teeka without a Contract far from his family and Keep.  When Teeka decides to Claim the find for himself and Brandt’s heir, he is surprised to find Brandt’s heir is none other than Senior Hunter Quill, a scarred, enigmatic Hunter who keeps to himself.  Quill offers to protect Teeka and together they decide to work the mine Teeka found to both honor Brandt’s memory and to register the Claim for themselves.

The head of the Hunters Guild gives Quill and Teeka  one month times to work the mlne.  If they don’t finish the lode, another Hunter may claim it and all their hard work will be for nothing.  As Hunter Quill mines the Claim, Teeka keeps for him, cooking, cleaning and making sure all of their equipments runs smoothly. Teeka also learns the process of mining the gems while their attraction to each other grows daily.  But a Keeper without a Contract must keep themselves chaste and their reputation clear of all gossip and their situation is not making that easy.

When Brandt’s death turns out to be murder instead of an accident, Quill and Teeka’s suspicions are raised, even about each other. And when others falls sick and Quill and Teeka come under attack, they must decide to trust each other and stand together or lose everything, even their chance at love.

Emerald Fire is a richly layered novel by two authors previously unknown to me.  Noon and Wilder have pulled together elements from cultures around the world as well as fabricated many of their own to build a gorgeously textured world called Persis.  They have left nothing out in their world building, from geology to biology with various habitats each with its own unique flora and fauna. Their vivid descriptions of Persis’ differing cultures  come complete with separate  the peoples beliefs, separate religions, government officials, laws, clothing, food, education, and transportation, I mean everything!  One of my favorite creations of theirs is a truffle.  A furred desert animal, it has a trunk, two sets of eyelids, short trunk like legs and an endearing personality.  I kept picturing a cross between a miniature elephant and a dog (the mind boggles).  I want one, perhaps two, just like Snuffles and Sniffles in the story.  And the cooking!  We get an intimate glimpse into Teeka’s meals including a roast he made of a sandcat (including his butchering technique), supplemented with roasted onions, moss bulbs, spices and a sauce.  And Teeka’s deserts including his famous lavender berries cake had my mouth watering.  They came up  with spices and cooking methods and complete menus – just amazing.

With some stories, an excess of minutiae works against the plot, swamping it with too much information.  Here the opposite is true, the details are seamlessly blended into the narrative, so like the spices in a dish, the details add depth and flavor to the story being created.  We learn how the tents work to exclude the heat of the two suns, the gloves and clothing worn to insulate the people, their inside garb, even the “necessities”, usually shared by a group of tents, where all shower and relieve themselves.  We get to wander into the market place to buy teas and vegetables or watch Teeka knitting socks or rugs from threads made of all types of matter, animal and vegetable much like here.  Each elements serving to wet our interest in life as it is lived on Persis.  I cannot congratulate the authors enough on the outstanding job they have done here.  Just remarkable.

Noon and Wilder build their characters the same way they built their world, with attention to detail and dimension.  No character is truly known from the start, not to the reader,not to each other.  Emerald Keeper Teeka starts off young, earnest, sure of his talents as a Keeper but he is only two months into his  first Contract and feels every bit the novice coming from a sheltered background.  He delights in each new sensation and experience and is devastated by Brandt’s death.  I had so many questions at the beginning.  What is a Keeper?  What is the training they keep referring to?  What is a Contract? Part of the joy of this story is that the answers are unveiled in small increments as the story unfolds. The character of Senior Hunter Quill is built in conjunction with that of Teeka, both characters fleshing out and becoming real the more we get to know them and their backstory (as told to each other).  Their secondary and side characters all equally authentic, all equally detailed.

I again wavered between a 4.5 and 5 rating with this story.  But a few things kept it from perfection with me.  Actually, that would be one thing,  the ending. Teeka’s future seemed headed in the right direction, as is the relationship between two main characters I have come to love.  But there was still so much more to be settled. I can’t give specifics here as I don’t want to spoil this wonderful book for anyone, I just felt that there was just a few too many loose ends left not tucked in to the beautiful tapestry they wove for us. Teeka would never have left one of his knitting projects in such a state nor did I expect it given all that went before in the story.  I hope both authors can be persuaded to continue Teeka and Quill’s saga.  They have made a great world and I, for one, am ready for more journeys there.

Cover:  Cover art by Alessio Brio, an artist I am also not familiar with.  Here she takes the colors I usually don’t like in a cover and uses them to create a stunning cover redolent of the heat beating down on the desert dunes.  Outstanding job.  Conveys the location of the story and the authors names are clear and easy to read.