Dear Lyn Gala,
I have read many m/m romance books which claimed to also be scifi/space operas only to discover to my dismay that they were not. So often the books are romances and the scifi/space opera aspect is just used as a window dressing for romance. Happily, this book is a real space opera – with a spaceship crew, war with aliens and enough action scenes to satisfy me. I also thought that the world building was good and had enough details to make the story enjoyable. There is a romance in this book and I think the writer mixed up the romance and the action well, but this is an “us against the world” story, once Jacqs realizes that yes, he wants Zeke, the conflicts the heroes face are mostly external.
In the foreword to the story the author says that the inspiration for the main character was a prompt from a fan who asked the question: What would happen to somebody who would share a particular character trait with Jayne from “Firefly”? I have not watched “Firefly” (I have been telling myself to do so for a while now, but something always distracts me), but I made sure to ask somebody who did watch and who read this book as well whether the worlds are in any way similar. I was told that no, mostly not and I also was told that Jacqs is not Jayne. I am telling readers this to explain that to me being inspired by a single character trait from existing character does not mean that this story is fanfiction, but I really wanted to double check first.
If you look at the blurb, you will probably think that the romance aspect of the story includes the “gay for you” trope. At least that is what I thought before I started reading the book. I would say that after I finished the story my answer would be that I am not sure whether the story deals with “gay for you” at all. In addition, the author states in the foreword to this book (and I really appreciate the note, otherwise it would have caused some confusion for me) that the sexuality in this world is more complex than just gay or straight. I mean, it is a fantasy creation of course, but for me it is an inventive and believable fantasy creation. I think in a sense this is based on the Kinsey scale (the basis for her invention I mean), but she came up with quite a few new words for people’s sexuality such as hypersexual, stenosexual and some others (I will let you read and find out what those definitions mean for the people in this book, in addition to the words familiar to us like heterosexual and homosexual. In this world people are required to declare their sexuality (not for any punitive purposes, I guess just for statistics) and they can change their sexuality any time they want.
Jacqs is a great character. He is a battle-hardened veteran, who is in the social interactions sometimes (ok, often) tends to act with his fists before he thinks, but whose heart is in the right place. I liked how he worried about his team members’ survival, even if he mostly called them idiots, and I think if I were serving in the army I definitely would have wanted Jacqs on my side. When Jacqs decides that he is attracted to Zeke, he changes his sexuality from heterosexual, but he did not then register as homosexual either. I really liked how one of the most important aspects of his characterization was woven into his decision. This man did not like introspection, but he never ran away from problems, met the challenges head on and after some thinking he realized that his sexuality was something different than he had thought it was before. I guess for me his thinking that over felt very male-like.
“Jacqs didn’t rightly like self-introspection. It never led to good things. It didn’t even lead to mediocre things, not in his estimation. But at the same time, he’d never run away from a fight in his life, not when it came to bullies in the camps, not when he’d faced off against the batfaces for the first time, and not when he had demons rolling around in his head. He battled them, and he either won or lost the fight, but he didn’t go hiding”.
I think I would have wanted Zeke on my side as well. Zeke was another veteran who was supposedly sent to lead the crew of “Candiru” in order to acquire leadership skills on a larger scale than he previously had a chance to practice. I thought Zeke managed the best he could and that he was a great officer already. Zeke and Jacqs made a great team – both in their professional and personal life.
I also really liked several other crew members of “Candiru”. The ensemble cast overall was interesting and I wanted to learn more about them. The female crew members were well done I thought – I thought that even minor characters had some flaws and felt human to me.
I do not think I am revealing major spoilers when I say that humanity in this book is at war with an alien species. I am not sure whether I was completely happy with how the alien species were portrayed (very broadly and I am not sure whether it was alien enough for me), but the story was not about them, so I shrugged and moved on.
As you can see by now, I thought that overall this was a really good book, but I was taken aback by the ending. It was unexpected (for me at least), which in some ways is a great thing, because I like it when a story takes me to the unpredictable places. However, it also left me a little depressed. But this is an issue of personal preference. The ending fit the story perfectly; it was original and to me fit the characters’ personalities. I just wished the writer had not gone there in the first place. I understand that I am being very cryptic in order not to reveal spoilers, but if somebody would like to know more details, I will be happy to give those under spoiler cuts in comments.