Rating: 5 stars
Sniper 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.
ebook, 175 pages
Published February 18th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN 1937551911 (ISBN13: 9781937551919)