Short Take: “Night of the Mannequins,” Stephen Graham Jones

Rating: 5 out of 5

Stephen Graham Jones’s horror novella Night of the Mannequins has one of the best opening lines I’ve ever seen. I was hooked the moment I read it:

So Shanna got a new job at the movie theater, we thought we’d play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead, and I’m really starting to feel kind of guilty about it all.

With that one sentence, we are dropped straight into the head of Sawyer, a manic teenager who’s living through some very strange times. He and his friends (Tim, JR, Shanna, and Danielle) used to play with an old mannequin they found and named “Manny.” They had put it away for some time, but now want to use him for one last prank. They cut him into pieces they can hide on their persons, sneak him into a movie theater, and then prop him up in a movie theater where Shanna works. The problem is, when the movie’s over Manny gets up and walks out of the movie theater. Soon the friends are getting killed one by one, and Sawyer’s desperately trying to save everyone he can from the terrible threat.

I’m writing a short take on this one largely because there’s so little I can talk about without giving things away. I love the fact that Jones writes characters who have balance rather than being strictly good or strictly nasty. It can be hard to avoid the typical high school character tropes, and he does it beautifully. The pacing is also spot-on, which is something I address a little further in the spoiler paragraph below.

This is an excellent murder/slasher-type horror tale, and I absolutely love it!

Spoiler paragraph: I’m going to try to give away as little as possible, but there’s one thing I think SGJ is particularly good at that I want to touch on. He has a knack, both here and in The Only Good Indians, of crafting a fairly normal-seeming character who goes off the rails so slowly, so gradually and smoothly, that it’s happened before you even internalize that there is a slide. His ability to nail that is nothing short of amazing. End spoilers

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Review: “The Demons We See,” Krista D. Ball

Rating: 5 out of 5

Krista D. Ball’s The Demons We See (The Dark Abyss of Our Sins Book 1) is also found in: Beginnings: first novels in multiple series by Krista D. Ball (great way to figure out which of her series you might like). I don’t review a lot of fantasy, but sometimes it’s just too fun to ignore. This is one of those times. I already love Ms Ball’s “Collaborator” series, so I had to read more by her–the collection of firsts was perfect for that.

Allegra is the Contessa of Marsina. She’s also an elemental mage. The fact that she’s a mage is well-known; only her family’s wealth and position saved her from being tattooed or branded and enslaved. Almost no one knows she’s an elemental, however. Elementals are believed to be too powerful to allow in society, and many of them die within months while working in the mines. The general populace also believes that mages are created when a person has sexual congress with a demon. The fruit of mages’ sweatshop labors to create enchanted items is available to anyone with the money to purchase it. Allegra wants to stop this system, wants the inevitable war between mages and others to not occur. But she’s too afraid and comfortable to do more than send a snide letter to the Holy Father Francois, her childhood friend and now leader of the faith. Unfortunately for her, he decides to fire back with an offer to appoint her Arbiter of Justice, responsible for the peace talks. Both of them are surprised when a series of events causes her to accept the position. She doesn’t have much support among the Cardinals, but she has the help of Captain Stanton Rainier, a bona fide war hero who enjoys her for her wit, and his Consorts–the Holy Father’s personal soldiers. Will it be enough to stop a war?

Ms. Ball’s characters are her massive, shining talent. Allegra has a sharp wit and is quick with a verbal riposte, but she also has her fears and anxieties. When she’s forced to stand up for her beliefs in front of enemies, she’s terrified. Stanton is also fantastic. At first he’s unhappy about having to take on this responsibility, but he quickly starts to enjoy Allegra’s company. Truly, any character who shows up more than once is absolutely wonderful, from some of the more entertaining Consorts to an outlaw mage named Walter (or as he likes to tell people: “Walter Cram, Demon Lover!”) who has a history with Allegra. Even characters like Father Michael (the priest at the abbey where she lives) and her personal servant have personality that shows up even in small interactions.

One of the scarier things about how elementals are treated is that there’s no way to definitively prove that someone is or isn’t an elemental unless they happen to use their powers in front of you. So people weaponize accusations of being an elemental against political rivals, people whose property they wish to confiscate, and so on. It’s only a matter of time before someone decides to try that against Allegra.

Politics are not my favorite kind of plots, but Ms. Ball makes them interesting. Largely by giving those involved enough personality that their interactions are enough to carry the page count. Some of Allegra’s decrees have unexpected consequences–probably not surprising for someone who’s never delved into politics before.

I love the chemistry between Allegra and Stanton. And ah, I might have cried once or twice while reading this. Also, I stayed up two hours late just to finish this book because I couldn’t put it down. So, yeah, I’ll be picking up any other books in this series that I can get a hold of!

Content note for mild, brief sexual content.

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Short Take: “Sole Survivor,” Zachary Ashford

Rating: 3 out of 5

Zachary Ashford’s novella Sole Survivor introduces us to a bunch of reality show contestants who have to bail out of their plane onto a deserted island. They’re pretty sure they just have to survive a day or three until they’re rescued, but what they don’t know is that this is the show. They’ve been marooned deliberately, and the whole island is riddled with cameras. There’s even an actor hired to take out any straying individuals by tranquilizing them with blow darts while dressed in a supposed “tribal” fashion. Before the actor can even get his start, bizarre carnivorous koala-like creatures start killing the contestants.

The characters start out as such painful stereotypes, and most of them never grow beyond that. Some of them die before they get the chance. There’s the pretty boy, the ex-army badass, the lesbian, the reluctant player, the slut, the one “normal” girl (I bet you already know what trope she’ll fill), and so on. A couple of them get to develop a little bit of depth. There’s one guy who starts out as an asshole, but he rags equally on everyone and he and Robin (the lesbian, who will of course fill another popular trope) get to be friends of a sort. Robin, for her part, turns out to be a bit of a badass. The ex-army guy, Johnny, is on the purely psychotic end of the military stereotype spectrum, and is, of course, a misogynist, bigoted, condescending jackass. I mean sure, that’s good for the action quotient, but it’s so utterly, painfully predictable. Giving a different character martial training and toning down Johnny’s psychosis would have worked together to alleviate some of the feeling of having seen this all before.

The early deaths happen with almost no build-up or momentum and thus are fairly uninteresting. I also would have liked to see a little more survivalism built up before everybody started dying.

Content note for anti-trans and anti-lesbian sentiments spewed by one of the characters. I think it’s safe to say he’s meant to be an asshole and the author himself isn’t trying to espouse those viewpoints, but I know not everyone will want to read that material regardless. Standard horror novel note for some gore, mostly being eaten alive by mutant koalas.

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Short Take: “Hairspray and Switchblades,” V. Castro

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

V. Castro’s horror novella Hairspray and Switchblades (Rewind or Die) is a quirky, fun story. Maya first turned into a jaguar on her eighteenth birthday, and it’s happened on every full moon since then. A few years later, Maya’s parents were killed in a home invasion. Luckily she and her younger sister Magdalena weren’t home at the time. Now Maya is 26 and working as a stripper/exotic dancer in a club. She earns enough to continue sending Magdalena, who’s 16, to school, and hopes Magdalena will go to college. What Maya really wants is to run an auto shop, but that dream died with her father. Now San Antonio is stalked by “the San Antonio Stripper Ripper,” a killer who takes parts of their kills and leaves no evidence. Maya has sensed something evil from one of her club’s patrons, and is trying to help handsome detective Jackson Barnes figure out how to stop the bad guy.

The narrative is a little rough. The transitions are a little quick, and the sentences tend to be a bit choppy–they make the pacing a little one-note. The story though, is original and interesting. Maya is a tough woman, and she doesn’t need Jackson to save her. Jackson pretty much falls in insta-love with Maya; I would have liked to see a little more buildup there, but it’s one of those personal preference things.

Maya manages to find some other shifters to help her. It’s a little sudden; she basically just emails and then skypes someone and manages to find what she wants. It seems like people are not nearly suspicious enough of someone who wants them to admit to being non-human. She does learn important things from them, though, which is needed for the plot.

I look forward to seeing future books from this author!

Content note for sexual material.

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Review: “The Void Protocol,” F. Paul Wilson

Rating: 3 out of 5

F. Paul Wilson’s The Void Protocol (The ICE Sequence (3)) picks up with Laura and Rick once again on the outs after his revelation at the end of the previous book. This time, the new bizarre topic is people-with-powers. Sure, they’re pretty minor powers. But one can levitate (less than two feet), one can make things (permanently) disappear from his hand (if he can close his hand over it), two are minor telekinetics who can move things on the order of a pool ball, one can sense other people with gifts, one can go invisible, and one can teleport (although without any clothes, jewelry, and–get this–makeup that she might be wearing). There’s also one who doesn’t seem to have any gift at all, even though Marie (the one who can sense others with gifts) insists she has one. In parallel we get glimpses into an old government black program (starting in 1984) created to study a strange material that doesn’t behave like anything natural (it pours, yet registers as having no weight, for example). The scientist who gets the furthest with it dubs it “melis,” as an anagram for “slime.”

I’m surprised that it took as long as it did to determine what Iggy’s power was. It seemed obvious to this reader from the first time we saw it work, and while I can see why it would take some repetition for other characters to get the idea, the lack of clue was carried too far. We also have yet another secret society that permanently marks its people (branding this time instead of tattoos, which would set off even more alarms if anyone notices).

Laura still tends to annoy me a bit. She’s peeved at Rick for being standoffish when they’re brought together again, but she’s the one who ghosted him. She runs hot and cold on him so often it’s a wonder he doesn’t have whiplash. I’m also annoyed that every time we’re introduced or reintroduced to Ruth (the girl who teleports), we’re reminded explicitly that she’s chubby, like that’s her defining characteristic.

At one point one of the folks with powers tries to kill Rick just for angering him, and Rick… doesn’t tell anyone? Doesn’t think to point out to Stahlman that the person is dangerous? Continues to let him hang out around all the good guys? There’s another girl who “reads” objects and people by touching them, and she’s brought in just long enough to give them a clue and then is never seen again. When trying to see if Ruth can take an item with her if, say, it’s under her skin, no one ever thinks to ask her whether, say, she’s had any dental fillings, and if so, whether they stayed with her. Also, there’s a touch of the “Bury Your Gays” trope in here.

There are story choices I didn’t entirely like in the previous two books–things like the general depiction of Laura, the secret societies that always tag their people in obvious ways, etc. In this volume, however, there are things that seem like actual plot holes or inconsistencies, or characters being suddenly dumb. This volume does still have great pacing and fun action–mobsters, kidnappings, human experimentation, strange anomalies, etc. It could be better, but it’s still fun.

Content note for animal harm and slurs.

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Review: “Bennytown,” Matt Carter

Rating: 5 out of 5

I believe in Bennytown!

Matt Carter’s Bennytown is a hallucinogenic ride through a very happy–and very scary–amusement park called Bennytown. Benny is a person in a giant bunny costume, and he has other happy friends who hang out with him. There are rides, restaurants, places to get photos and autographs, and more. Noel and his father own season passes, so they’ve gone hundreds of times. After Noel’s mother died, going to Bennytown was what finally got Noel talking and interacting again–he has a lot of reason to love the place. On his 16th birthday, his father rousts him from bed, makes him dress up, and drives him to Bennytown to get a job there. It turns out he’s just what they’re looking for, and his first job is working at an ice cream stand. Before long he’ll find out that Bennytown has secrets–an awful lot of them. Garcia, one of the janitors, offers to show him some of the secret places, and she becomes his guide. As Noel works, he gets more and more into the “one great family”-ness of the place, and his girlfriend is getting worried about him.

The book see-saws back and forth between Noel in 2019 and various other workers and visitors from 1958 (while the park was being built) onward. I didn’t feel dizzy or lost, because nothing hinges on the reader remembering exactly who was in what time frame. It’s a great way to introduce us to a great many dangers and wonders without having to shoehorn a way to fit Noel into all of them. It also serves to show the reader just how Bennytown got its start, and what its creators and maintainers have done with it.

I love watching Noel get pulled slowly, gradually, and oh-so-smoothly into the thing that is Bennytown. Before long he can’t bring himself to swear (or use other terms on the list of “Poison Words”), doesn’t want to hear anything bad about the park from his girlfriend Olivia, and somehow manages to survive a night stuck in the park–there’s a safety reason why no one is allowed in overnight! The ways and means of churning through bodies are myriad and impressive. This is a highly creative semi-slasher-type horror. It has a surprising amount of depth behind why the park is the way it is.

There are hidden clubs for VIPs, a mysterious “redemption program” for troublesome employees, a system of tunnels (“Rabbit Holes”) beneath the park, multiple murderers stalking the grounds, and more. And through it all we follow Noel, who just wants to be a part of the Bennytown family.

Content note: gore, sex, sexual assault (f on m), implication of child molestation, and animal harm. It isn’t too intense–it’s just varied.

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Review: “Body Rides,” Richard Laymon

Rating: 2 out of 5

Richard Laymon’s Body Rides has an intriguing premise. Neal Darden goes out at night to return a couple of video tapes to the store (it’s 1995), and ends up foiling a torture/murder. He responds to screams for help, shoots the guy, and gets Elise home. She rewards him by giving him a bracelet that allows the wearer to leave their body and enter the body of another person–as a passenger, unable to affect things or communicate in any way. Unfortunately, when Neal drives back past the site where he killed the bad guy, he sees that the culprit’s van is gone. And so is his body. It seems he isn’t as dead as Neal thought he was–and now he’s angry.

Reading this book is a lot like watching a movie that has no music in it. It’s very arresting, very dialogue-heavy at times, and encourages you to hear and take note of every detail. But whenever it isn’t in the middle of an action scene, things feel slow and flat. My guess is that Laymon was writing it to produce the same feeling in the reader that you might get while being a passenger in someone else’s body–wide awake, noticing every detail as though it’s shiny and new. If so, I’m not sure it was worth it. It just has too much of a negative effect on the pacing for much of the book.

The bracelet is an interesting item, and it’s used well in this book. The wearer’s body is nearly in a coma–unaware and unprotected–until they get back to their body. Elise opines that one should never step into the head of someone you’re close to, because there will be things you don’t want to hear (you can hear much of a person’s thoughts when you “ride” them). And she also believes that being in someone else’s head when they die could go… badly.

I’m annoyed by the fact that every woman who comes in contact with Neal falls in love with him, especially since he isn’t an entirely likable guy. Elise states that since he saved her life, she and everything she owns now belong to him. It’s rare to see a woman objectify herself, and I very much do not like it. Then there’s Marta, Neal’s entirely-too-understanding flight attendant girlfriend. At one point he decides to hide out of town, and picks up a beautiful 18-year-old girl (he’s 28) who also falls in love with him (yes, he also fell in love with Elise and said 18-year-old; apparently love is an instantaneous thing). Then there’s the girl he scares half to death while he’s exploring with the bracelet, because he decides that he should actually go to her apartment and do… I’m not sure what, exactly. But despite his re-traumatizing her about a past incident, she too ends up falling for him. Don’t get me wrong–I think polyamorous relationships can be fine–but this is not something Marta actually agreed to before he decided to sleep with someone else, and I really feel like she should care more about that betrayal.

The female characters put up an air of strength, but they all get undermined by the author. There’s the previously-mentioned part where Elise objectifies herself and all but declares herself to be Neal’s slave. There’s nothing strong at all about the traumatized girl he approaches. Sue, the waitress he picks up, has the stereotypical “I don’t like my own gender” thing going on. Both Elise and Sue are happy to offer Neal sex despite knowing he has a girlfriend. And Neal’s thoughts upon seeing two of his partners meet up is “just be thankful they haven’t turned into raving, jealous dogs.” Ugh. What a great way to think about two women you supposedly love.

Laymon expertly explores the ins and outs of the bracelet, making use of it in innovative ways. The basic story was great, but the treatment of women and the exasperating pacing really brought it down.

Content note for sex (mf, mff, ff-sorta), torture, sexual assault.

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Review: “Salvo,” H.E. Trent

Rating: 1 out of 5

H.E. Trent’s Salvo (The Jekh Saga) (Volume 3) (also available in The Jekh Saga Collection One: Erstwhile, Crux, and Salvo) focuses on Owen McGarry (the third)–Erin and Court’s older brother. He’s kept very busy on the farm setting out sensors around the farm to detect intruders, fixing up the communications equipment, and so forth. One day a search party is sent out for Ais (a Jekhan/human hybrid), who has been missing for a few hours. Given the fact that she’s legally blind and doesn’t entirely know the local languages yet, people are concerned. Owen finds her trapped in some thorns, and is seriously put-out that he had to waste his time because she was being “a silly little fool.” He decides that the best way to handle her is to lock her in his cottage and not allow her to go anywhere or talk to anyone. Meanwhile, three people from Owen’s past show up in a stolen spaceship and end up helping to track down the missing Jekhan women.

Well, you can probably tell right away why this installment got a 1/5 instead of the 3/5 I gave the previous book and the 4/5 I gave the first. Owen kidnapped Ais. The only thing that barely makes it “almost” is that he told people where she was, but he made sure she had no way to contact anyone, left her in a locked room when she couldn’t really see anything, was not entirely on time with bothering to bring her something to eat, and thought “she’d thank him later.” Then when she resorted to throwing stuff around to deal with her anger, he dismissed it as a tantrum. Note that this is a woman who was literally kept in a cage. She’s already been kidnapped. She was raped repeatedly. He completely ignores the fact that she’s been traumatized. How am I supposed to like him as the hero of a romance story once he’s done something like this? And how come she settles in fine after her first thoughts of escape? As far as I can tell the only reason she goes along with it is because she’s used to being abused and doesn’t know any better, and that’s far from romantic.

The thing is, this becomes a perfectly good SF/romance novel past a certain point. If the author had only made Owen’s initial actions less extreme, the entire book would have been good. It would have been an easy change to make. Then Owen wouldn’t have come across as an abuser. He even resents Ais for “putting him in this situation” and complains about losing his solitude! The absolute nerve of him. Then one of Owen’s friends, Luke, decides to play match-maker and pushes her toward Owen while saying, “I think if you like him a little, you should see what happens if you touch him.” No effort made to make sure she’s okay with it, particularly when she was conditioned previously to do what men wanted of her. At that point we’re supposed to suddenly decide Owen is a good guy because he finally gains a little sense and realizes that maybe having sex with her under the circumstances would be a bad move.

Back to the situation on Jekh: Thanks to Lillian and the elder Owen, the Jekhans are starting to reclaim the city. Reg Devin gets tossed in jail finally, although someone breaks him out because they want to pay him to track down Ais. Ais is also certain that she spotted one of the creatures who genetically engineered her trying to find her–she was stolen from their lab and they want her back.

The particularly frustrating thing about the Owen/Ais relationship is that it could have been made non-abusive and it wasn’t. At this point I can’t read the rest of the series.

Content note: mfm and mf explicit sex.

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Review: “Crux,” H.E. Trent

Rating: 3 out of 5

H.E. Trent’s Crux: A Sci-Fi Romance (The Jekh Saga Book 2) (also available in The Jekh Saga Collection One: Erstwhile, Crux, and Salvo) sees Courtney’s sister Erin and brother Owen (the third) arrive on Jekh. Erin is a paramedic and Owen is into tech. Erin helps out around the farm, and ends up cuddling with Jekhan baker Headron, although she won’t actually have sex with him because she isn’t interested in a relationship. When super-dominant Esteben (Murk’s brother) decides he wants her, she does have sex with him–she believes that with him it’ll just be a one-night stand. Meanwhile, Lillian Devin, the police commissioner who’s secretly on the side of the Jekhans, sets up Eileen (Amy’s coworker) and Edgar (one of a couple of non-corrupt cops under her employ) to retrieve the elder Owen McGarry from where he’s been kept in stasis (everyone thought he was dead). It’s believed he’ll be able to bolster pro-Jekhan sentiment and help organize the Jekhans.

There’s plenty of world-building activity–the town that the McGarries and their friends have settled near could use some help, as could the farm full of people. Some stuff is low-key, like Headron starting to bake again and selling his bread in the neighboring town. Or Trig’s efforts to grow coffee beans and other human-preferred foods that aren’t native to Jekh (sounds like a route to accidentally seeding the place with invasive plants, but what do I know).

Erin spends waaay too much time and effort trying not to get involved with Headron and Esteben. I’m not surprised they got annoyed with her–I’m surprised they didn’t get more annoyed with her. Although I guess Jekhans are used to their women being prickly, so maybe it didn’t seem entirely strange to them. She has some misguided idea that by getting involved with the Jekhan men she’d be erasing their culture. Which–they’re grown men. They’re adults. They can make their own decisions with respect to culture vs. emotions. Also, the Jekhans were the ones hoping to approach the humans about needing an infusion of more viable genetic material, so wouldn’t this be something they’d already approved of? One of the hardest parts of this relationship is that Headron and Esteben start off pretty much hating each other. That becomes an interesting sub-plot.

I also like how the author establishes Esteben. He’s been in a very bad situation and was violent at first (he’s Murk’s brother, so they took him in regardless). He’s described initially as “feral.” In any other book that means he’d be growly and reticent and unapproachable even once settled down. In here, he turns out to be a charismatic merchant.

The population of Trig’s farm is basically a bunch of outsiders and outliers–both human and Jekhan. We get a little bit more of a handle on the seemingly straightforward Jekhan culture, and how much of it is really due to Tyneali cultural influence rather than actual biology. It’s interesting.

At one point Eileen and Edgar rescue a young woman who’s the product of another Tyneali experiment–more human than Jeckhan. She only speaks a few words of English, and Eileen, who’s trying to get information from her, at one point thinks, “She suspected she would have better luck getting a dog to bark the Gettysburg Adress.” That’s… icky. She’s comparing someone whose only difficulty is not having been taught a language, to an animal. That didn’t speak well of her, and I didn’t get the impression from the text around it that she was supposed to come off as bigoted.

Content note for explicit sex (mmf, mm, mf).

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Review: “Erstwhile,” H.E. Trent

Rating: 4 out of 5

H.E. Trent’s Erstwhile: A Sci-Fi Romance (The Jekh Saga Book 1) (also available in The Jekh Saga Collection One: Erstwhile, Crux, and Salvo) is an interesting and fun scifi/romance blend. In this story-verse, aliens called the Tinyaeli used their own genetics as a base to create a variety of sentient races on different planets. One of these races, the Jekhan, was something of a failed experiment. When the Jekhan found out about their genetic cousins, humans, they prepared to send envoys to earth in the hopes of both friendship and perhaps a new infusion of genetic material. Instead, humans vilified them, stole their technology, and took over their planet. (Who’s surprised? Not me.) Officer Courtney McGarry has volunteered to be sent to Jekh as a police officer. What no one told her is that women are so rare on Jekh that things can get… bad for them. She was convinced to sign up for the matchmaking database, not realizing quite how mandatory it was or how seriously it was taken. A couple of cabin attendants on the spaceship trip to Jekh manage to warn her a bit, and one of them, Amy, does her best to introduce Court to some of the native Jekhans on the planet. When Court gets her new digs, she discovers two Jekhan men hiding in a secret closet. One of them is extremely ill, and both of them are in hiding from the human government. As Court becomes more and more involved with the Jekhans, things become more and more dangerous for her.

First, this is a great twist on the whole “alien seed theory” seen so often in sci-fi. As usual, it provides a great explanation for why various races exist and can interact. What makes this different from what I’ve seen before is that the Tynaeli aren’t perfect, and neither are their experiments. You never see a race described as a “failed experiment” in sci-fi. The Jekhans have been culturally conditioned by the Tynaeli to be non-violent, which makes it all the more easy for the humans to planet-jack them.

The erotic romance part of things is interesting too. The Jekhan “formula” is mmf–a male isn’t fertile unless there’s a second male involved, and the female usually spends as little time with the men and children as possible. (Again, culturally conditioned by the Tynaeli.) Also, male Jekhan hormones get unbalanced if they spend too much of their lives single and without a female–if they don’t get the right medication, they can even die. It’s easy to see why the Jekhans need an outside infusion of genetic material–the Tynaeli accidentally screwed them over in the reproduction department.

Typically in the mmf relationship, one male is the “first husband” and is dominant. The other male is the “second husband” and is submissive. Of the two males Court encounters–who are already lovers–Murk is clearly dominant and Trigrian (Trig) is clearly submissive. Court can put up with Murk being dominant (although I wouldn’t call her submissive), and she can be a bit dominant with Trig. Court eventually decides to call off the arranged marriage, and finds out that apparently Reg Devin paid to be matched specifically with her, and is extremely angry that she’s breaking it off. Soon Reg will be back on the planet, and she’s going to have to watch her back when he returns.

There’s an interesting discussion in here of consent and how it relates to culture and personality. I also love that Court is very uninhibited when it comes to sex–in particular, the idea of having sex with a Jekhan in no way offends or bothers her.

This isn’t just sex/relationship writing; it also has plenty of action going on. There are some conspiracies taking place, people end up in a great deal of danger, and the political scene is quite messed up.

I was a little surprised that on a planet where most of the humans are male, there’s no thriving gay scene.

Content note for explicit sex (mmf, mm, mf), sexual assault, and exhibitionism/voyeurism.

SPOILER WARNING (sub-genre note): If your idea of an HEA (Happily Ever After) in romance requires pregnacy, this is definitely the series for you! Also, one thing I didn’t like about this book is I’m not into stories where the win condition for the woman is to give up her job to be barefoot and pregnant, and this is uncomfortably close to that.

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