The first three chapters or so of this were released earlier this year as a short story
([b:The Only Way Out Is In|18060722|The Only Way Out Is In|Lyn Gala|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1370938971s/18060722.jpg|25350906]) from a prompt submitted for the Goodreads 2013 Love Has No Boundaries event. I will borrow from my review of that short for this longer version of the story.
Jacqs, a combat soldier demoted to lowly gunner on the spaceship Candiru
, is based on a character in Firefly
, a popular TV sci-fi series. And like his inspiration, he is a jerk. He seems to be constantly on the sexual prowl and to hear Jacqs talk, he has fended off and has no interest in the advances of ‘hypersexualized, queer-turned and pansexual types’. The lad doth protest too much, methinks.”Jacqs had never sexed a male. He was pure het. Always had been, always would be.”
Lesson one: never say never…
It’s so easy to dislike him. Uncouth, dim, narrow-minded… What is up with this guy? But, there is a little more to the picture, hints of an early life full of hardship, neglect, and abuse— “Jacqs couldn’t quite imagine telling anyone how he felt sick inside watching people get bullied.”
From the age of eight he grew up fending for himself, living in a refugee camp, fighting for scraps… That could explain a few things.
When his new CO, Zeke Waters, comes on board, things start changing and one of them is Jacqs. Hidden under all the bluster we see there is a heart. Training sessions between the two on a sparring mat turn into a different kind of mating dance. Worthy opponents with similar life experiences, Zeke and Jacqs could be a match made in heaven.
It’s little wonder that Jacqs is so focused on sexual categorization, there is a lot of it in this world where people register their sexual identities (see the glossary at the end of the book). It’s perhaps overused in the story… at least that’s how it felt at times… But, it’s a huge clue that Jacqs has only been interested in a certain type of woman: tough, aggressive, and usually for sale. Zeke (registered pansexual) is strong, ambitious and self confident. When he shows up onboard he brings a different kind of officer, one who will listen and study his crew, and use logic to train them into better soldiers (after all there is a war on and the alien ‘batfaces’ are an ever-present threat). Jacqs comes to a realization that what attracts him sexually may not be gender-based as much as it is attraction to certain character attributes.
I do find it amazing how much Jacqs changes in the story, but I chalk it up to personal growth and his meeting ‘the right person at the right time’. And having more room for understanding and experimentation. So, Jacqs’ character does a huge turn-around and we see that he’s not only flexible at survival but in love too.
The author craftily expands the short story, coloring in the characters and giving them depth. While this is where the writing shines, in the character build, the middle part of the story stalls for me because of it. I keep thinking… but there’s a war raging out there and we seem stuck on this ship with a lot of talk and introspection.
This is the only real issue I have with the pacing, I wish it had been interspersed with a bit more action. Finally, the crew gets called to a dangerous mission to rescue a diplomatic ship which has crash landed and needs help with repairs. Jacqs is sent out with some of the other crew. This action sequence is great and brings the pacing back up to speed and maintains it to the end.
The sex, as expected, is very good. Even more, there is a helluva sweet scene of zero gravity sexing (‘zexting’)— a first in my sci-fi reading… “… Jacqs grabbed Zeke’s hips and used sheer force to pull himself down onto Zeke and hold himself there as he thrust into him… the physics of reaction threatened to send Jacqs sailing away... the lack of gravity tried to steal that hard edge that he needed to come… small drops of cum slipped free of their bodies and floated up, tiny white pearls scattered between them.”
A fun scene, and visualizing the clean-up afterwards… oh, yeah…
It’s the last half of the book when the action picks up that elevates it for me. The enemy aliens finally make an appearance, and there is some good political intrigue and high drama. The ending, though, while clever, feels unsettled. It’s another big change for these two guys and I can’t quite buy that this is it for them.
Kudos to the author for taking a prompt that asked for a not very likable character and turning him around, while managing to keep him true to himself. Again, great characters and world-building, and some great action.
For this review, give-aways, author interviews, and much more: