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.