Another review for the month–that’s been languishing far too long in draft format. This one comes courtesy an author who braved the ridiculously long list of requests queued for reviews on my blog and sent me the blurb to her book. It was intriguing enough–and exactly what I needed at the time as a mental palate cleanse from school texts–that I asked her to send it right over. I read it that day. Here’s what had me hooked:
What would you risk for love?
Marlee’s people are dying—the valuable anysogen gas that covers their planet is making the entire population infertile. When the council tells her she must leave her partner and choose another to improve her chances of having a baby, she’s devastated. She swears she’ll never love again—it hurts too much.
Tyris thinks he has everything he wants, despite his world suffering from overpopulation—until his wife leaves him because he is forbidden to have children.
In an attempt to convince his world, and his wife, that he’s worthwhile, Tyris goes hunting for a lost planet said to contain untold riches in the form of anysogen gas.
When he crashes on her world, Marlee and Tyris agree to pretend to live together while they try to repair his ship and escape from the planet. But as they battle the harsh winter on the planet together, keeping their distance becomes even more challenging than the snow, the council and the risks of a real relationship…
The story is engaging and well-told, shifting perspective between Marlee and Tyris, and jumping from a world most westerners would recognize–full of electronic devices and time-saving measures–to a primitive settlement on a world under a literal cloud of gas. The characters are likable and strongly motivated in slightly different directions–though both are primarily concerned with their ability to escape the atmosphere slowly, literally poisoning all the people living on the new planet.
“You bumped your head quite hard. Don’t try to get up. You’re safe here.”
Her soothing words were at odds with the excitement in her voice.
“My ship, the Hylista, is it in one piece?”
He couldn’t remember the final landing. Had the shields protected him, or had the power cut out again?
“It’s… all in one piece,” she said carefully.
She frowned. “But what?”
“I sense a ‘but’. It’s all in one piece, but…”
She hesitated. “Nerris thinks it’s badly damaged. He can’t get the power to come on.”
Tyris tried to ignore his heart sinking. He had no idea who Nerris was. It was impossible to judge if he was qualified to assess the damage. “Where am I?” he asked instead.
He looked around the room, searching for clues as to his whereabouts. The walls were dark and gritty like mud, and the floor was bare dirt, brightened only slightly by a round, plaited rug. Through the open doorway he could see a fireplace with a large pot hanging over it.
This had to be the village he had flown over, the one that shouldn’t have existed. People actually lived here. What were they doing on this planet? Were they hoping to sell the anysogen on the black market?
Sometimes the descriptions of just how self-sufficient the settlers have become get a little overdone, and there’s something of an underlying preachiness about the value of knowing how to live off the grid, but not enough to derail my enjoyment of the unfolding story. It can also be argued that Tyris’ growing regard for Marlee is largely built on his understanding of her ability to sustain herself in spartan circumstances, so the domestic scenes of cooking, canning, knitting, and homesteading highlight just how extensive her skills are. That contrast with Tyris’ wife also establishes another angle to the central tension about making a life on a planet that dooms its inhabitants to sterility versus making a daring escape.
This is a welcome addition to the growing sub-genre of scifi romance, where readers can explore additional, unique contributing factors in the relationship. In this particular case, it’s an ambitious debut novel that’s found a way to compare and contrast low-tech and high-tech living in an imaginative way–which lets me happily recommend it for fans of both romance and scifi genres who appreciate attention to experiential details. The dystopian view of a dead-end colony adds meat to the tensions that beset the characters. Even better, there’s a book 2 on the way later this year so we can watch how Tyris and Marlee handle a new set of challenges.