This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
There is a feeling I get reading a well-written Sci-Fi of which this one would count in that category. In the beginning, its the sensation one gets of being off-kelter that comes from entering a new and creative world when everything feels strange and different. Not only does this story offer a people group that is vastly different from humans, it also has a tight and authentic military essence underlying the plot. Now I don’t want to mislead by that and make folks think it is non-stop action stuff because that is not really the pace or tone of much of the story. This one is about connecting and communication and the conflict comes from cross-purpose.
The story opens with Marc Staille and his trusted sniper rifle that he affectionately calls Mat along with the rest of Marc’s sniper team placed forward of the mission’s main body so as to provide protection from the wilder and aggressive animal species on the planet they have come to explore. Marc is really good at what he does. He’s studied the hostiles and he’s found a good position to both observe, take out any aggressors and defend his position which is good because the tawnies- large furry big cat like creatures- are moving up the valley to act against his team.
Marc takes action and drops several of the tawnies. But while he has been stalking the prey from his position, he has become prey himself. A large tawnie attacks from behind. Marc is holding his own, but some sort of pheromone release sends him to his knees. Inexplicably, the tawny spares him, takes him prisoner and Marc comes to the sickening realization that the ‘creatures’ are really sentient beings that were acting to defend their homes against the aggressors.
Hamm, a furr, is appalled at the loss of his whole team and is amazed to learn the little human and his death stick are responsible. Hamm wants to end the hostilities that will only see more deaths on both sides, but first he had to capture one of the humans and question him. Hamm’s people are ambivalent and some even hostile about his plan and he himself is sent reeling by his reaction to his captive. Once communication has been established, he is hopeful on more than one level, but naturally it just isn’t that easy.
I found the rhythm of this story and the focus on small scene personal interaction against the bigger backdrop of hostility and danger between the races something that I really enjoyed. The growing connection and understanding between Hamm and Marc just captivated me. They are from two different alien races, but recognize fundamentally they are the same in that they’re both soldiers.
What I also observed as I read was that I didn’t have to strain to believe that Marc was a soldier. He cracked me up near the end when he observed how the other humans were handling negotiations and how he as a soldier viewed it all.
I felt like Marc’s relationship with his rifle is symbolic of his growth through the story. At first, he is attached and near heartbroken when the furrs take Mat away from him and then later when he feels betrayed by Hamm, Matt is the first thing he wants back to restore himself. But then in the end, Hamm returns Mat and Marc makes a huge decision and it involves holding onto Mat or letting go.
When it comes to poor Hamm, he was thrown off his game from almost the moment he makes contact with Marc. Hamm was angry over the loss of his men and confused about his attraction to the human and desire to protect him from his own people. He finds himself placing his leadership position in jeopardy because of Marc.
This is not one of those scorching hot romances even though attraction is at the core of the story. Hamm and Marc’s relationship progressed cautiously making it more genuine to me. They mistrusted and even had angry feelings so it would have felt weird for them to just chuck it all and declare love. So yes, nicely done!
The only thing that niggled was the denouement. I wanted a bit more detail of what happens next. There is a wonderful epilogue scene between Hamm and Marc on a personal level, but the overall picture including their future (other than as a couple) is left vague and shadowy other than just a few lines.
In the end, I was enthralled by the story and look forward to more by this author. It is my humble opinion that those who enjoy m/m Sci-Fi Romance will really appreciate this story.
Thank you to Net Galley for sending along this book for review purposes.