I have read this because Jill made me. Every now and then we force each other to read books we probably would not have read otherwise. I’m not going to lie - many times during reading this book I was asking myself: what is this? Why am I reading it?
And yet, it’s clear to me there is a five star book hidden in this 1000 page long behemoth of a novel. R Lee Smith is a fantastic storyteller but she could use a good editor to just trim her production. There were so many repetitive scenes, and don’t get me wrong, they were all fairly well-written but I got the point the first time round. There is no need to beat me with it in the head.
On the other hand I can’t see any mainstream publisher taking this weird number on because their marketing department would go mad trying to figure out which of the neat publishing boxes to stick into. Is it sci-fi? Epic fantasy? Post apocalyptic survival? Paranormal romance?
There is no point in summarizing a 1000 page long book in a review but the basic premise is this: It’s sometime in the future and of course the world has gone to shit. Amber and her annoying sister find themselves in dire straits and decide to sign up to colonise some distant planet. Things go wrong and they crash land somewhere further they ever meant to go with only a handful of survivors.
Lots of things happen and Amber meets Meoraq, an alien looking like a cross between a lizard and a man. Surely they will eventually fall in love but the romance develops slowly, understandingly, as both of them at first consider any relationship between as a form of bestiality. So they have to get over that first. And the reader has to get over things like snouts instead of faces and retractable penises. Retractable penises! Sexy times.
Except for Amber, every other surviving human is an idiot and an asshole, especially Scott, the self-proclaimed leader who hates Amber’s guts. This is where the book gets a bit confusing, because while I can understand why Amber wants to stick with those human assholes despite everything (they are on an alien planet, they are the only humans she will ever see again, I get it, I’ve spent enough time in some God-forgotten places to know how quickly your standards for what is acceptable human company drop) but why do all these morons follow Scott is beyond me. In normal circumstances populist idiots like Scott get voted into governments because they can wax poetic about all the fantastic things they are going to give the people because those people have no idea how the economy or government work so it’s easier for them to buy that sort of crap. But on that alien planet all Scott’s theories are put to test immediately and he fails repeatedly. It’s Amber who brings them food and guarantees their survival. Even if they don’t like her, their self-preservation instinct should’ve kicked in and told them who to stick with. I understand that you had to be either very stupid or very desperate or both to join that foolhardy mission in the first place but it’s still amazing how poor Amber found herself on an alien planet with 50 of the stupidest humans the Earth had to offer.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I didn’t enjoy this book because I enjoyed it a lot. It’s not an escapist read – which is what I normally want from my romance novels. I would never want Amber’s reality over my own reality, even if hers comes with this larger-than-life love. No hung lizardman is worth going through such a fucking ordeal that includes murder, rapes and near starvation. I’d do anything for love, but I won’t do that.
One of my favourite aspects of the book was the very clever meditation on religion and society. Amber is a sarcastic atheist while Meoraq is serious and fiercely religious. Props to the author for making their romance feel authentic. Bizarrely, this book reinforced my atheism while according to another reviewer it strengthened her belief in God. It really was very balanced.
Narration was also very good. I particularly remember that one bit when suddenly things became weird and distorted and after a while you realise Amber got hit in the head.
And then there is the world building, of course. It was very clever and so internally coherent that it would be a shame to classify it as a simple romance novel.