Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
This book starts out with a civil war started by King Taen by appropriating the lands of Lord Mavren, making him an enemy. Really there are huge ideological differences between the two and Mavren speaking out against what they see as issues in their society has lead to this. Lord General Aiomonni is the head of King Taen’s military and Lord Mavren’s previous lover. Mavren becomes King of their own rebel Catalyst forces. The reader is thrown into the mind of a Soldiercaste of the Augment Empire during a battle in which they are captured by the enemy. The Augment are a cybernetic species that need organic tissue for digestion, or a host body to assimilate. They are bipedal, yet insectile. This soldier becomes Nact of Quen and the reader will follow them as they raise up in the Catalyst army after their defection. When Nact and Aiomonni engage in battle beyond the charted galaxy to land on a hostile planet, their only hope of survival lies in cooperation, and maybe more.
I would recommend reading an excerpt to see if this book appeals to you. It is written with agender pronouns (ne/nem/nemself/nir). What makes this so compelling is that Nact’s POV shows what freedom and choice look like to someone who’s never had it. It takes six years for Nact to become a general, due to their skills, not because they were born into it. They channel their anger for how their caste was deprived and ill treated into battling King Taen’s forces. By the time they are sent to capture Aiomonni, my sympathies were engaged with them. But for all their privilege, Aiomonni is as much a captive of the system, of convention, as Nact was. The crash shows Aiomonni that their crew have skills beyond their caste. Alive on a populated planet named Colti, being Augment seems more important than their civil war. Showing Aiomonni’s POV makes them extremely sympathetic. At one point they have a common enemy, Plackart, who the author gives a moment of his own: a chance for the reason to see and understand who he is. (I used the he pronoun here although I have no idea if this species is agender also.) This would have been more poignant and heartbreaking than it is, if it had been explored more so my sympathies lay with him also, but that opportunity passes–it is an intellectual scene showing the psychology of his character rather than an emotional scene where I felt his pain and loss.
I feel like the whole book takes the first 25 percent to set-up until they crash land. Then, it gets really interesting. There are so many ethical issues raised throughout the book: the caste system, ruling by fear, being a parasitic race, acceptable behavior during war, what makes a person a person, the parameters of loyalty, etc. This is obviously not a traditional romance. Intimacy is earned by respect or allegiance, but there are layers to the intimacies they grant and even having larvae together doesn’t guarantee anything approximating love. There is never any doubt that these are alien creatures. The sex is completely alien. The sex scenes show aspects of their culture and personal characters as a normal part of life, however, at least for me, they weren’t terribly erotic. This book captures that forbidden feeling of wanting your political enemy whilst being stuck by duty of birth, oaths, and family obligations. This book is so intriguing because the characters are acting honorably–in their own fashion. Their temporary alliance for the greater good allows them to live in a bubble and indulge themselves, but it is temporary and the vanities of others await–continued war still awaits.
I would have liked to get to know some of the other passing characters more. At first I was not sure about the purpose of the character of Feylc, but they become a good foil and I realized it is something I’ve missed in other books as it’s an underutilized tool these days. Still, they are the only other Augment with a real personality here.
I’m not going to say this wasn’t sometimes a little difficult to fully picture, because it was. I’m not going to say the non-binary language wasn’t sometimes confusing (even having read many non-binary characters previously), because it did get awkward in places since the author still uses we and they. What I will say is that for me the effort was worth it. I liked that the world building was character focused and driven without all the extraneous descriptions of things that have no real bearing on the story. There is little attention placed on the various home worlds, which may annoy readers who expect and enjoy that type of detail. While there is tech involved, this is not hard science fiction in any way. The reader is told that things work, not how they work. The end wraps up in a satisfactory way with a (mostly) HEA, although it was startling to be narratively told, like a voice over, after living in the character’s heads for so long. I have to say I really enjoyed this book. If you like things that are different from the norm, give this a try.
The cover was designed by Aisha Akeju. I suppose it shows the ship going through the wormhole. It really isn’t intriguing enough for this book.
Published February 15th 2017 by Less Than Three Press
Original Title Dangerous Times
ISBN 1620049554 (ISBN13: 9781620049556)
Edition Language English
Literary Awards Rainbow Award for Best Transgender Debut & for Best Transgender – Sci-Fi / Futuristic, Paranormal Romance, Fantasy & Fantasy Romance (2017)