by Etta Pierce
Series: Intersolar Union #1
Publication Date: January 15, 2022
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction
Olivia Loxley was a behaviorist with the Los Angeles Police Department. Until her specialty in profiling the human mind becomes of unique interest to Commander Atarian, that is.
When she wakes up in a cell on an alien spacecraft, she gathers her strength for a confrontation that never materializes. Instead, the man asks for her help in the largest raid he's ever overseen: a pleasure cruiser christened the Paramour, which has been siphoning humans into galactic sex trafficking for months. But in order for his mission to go off without a hitch, he needs to impersonate a connoisseur of human flesh.
The real question is, will either of them be able to keep up professional boundaries? Or will they bow to their primal instincts?
If I had to pick only one genre to read for the rest of my life, it would be sci-fi romance. So whenever I see anything vaguely promising, I can’t resist. In other words, this book was free, one of my mutuals had reviewed it well, and I wasn’t feeling any of the review copies I should’ve been reading. So while there were some definite issues, I overall enjoyed this book.
There’s a lot of problems with this book. The biggest, and the one that almost made me DNF it within the first chapter, is that it reads like a first novel with some extremely clunky writing. There’s frequent info dumps, some laughable dialogue, and really uneven tension. There were some hilariously funny misused words (at one point a bad guy slumps “auspiciously” in a corner) and the general feeling that the author relied on the thesaurus too much. Really, “said” is just fine, no need for “asking” and “growling” and fifty other ways of saying things. The POV choices were also a bit jarring. Olivia’s is done in first-person, while Atarian’s and the other side characters are done in third person. Basically, it needed another couple editing passes.
It also involves one of my least favorite alien romance tropes, aliens abducting humans for nefarious purposes. In Olivia’s case, though, it’s non-nefarious but still mostly a-holey purposes. Commander Atarian suspects that a ship has been facilitating the sale of humans into slavery. But in order to get the evidence he needs, he has to go undercover as a “connoisseur” of the wares and he thinks Olivia, with her history as a behaviorist, is the perfect person to teach him. But instead of, I dunno, explaining the situation he just up and kidnaps her. Yes, as the heroine takes pains to point out, after that particular violation Atarian is careful to preserve Olivia’s ability to consent…. that’s after she’s drugged and removed from Earth forever.
Another issue is that it’s one of those romances where the whole bleak moment between Olivia and Atarian could’ve been prevented with a five minute conversation. No lie, Olivia eventually figures it out with the help of a children’s picture book. I can’t figure out if that’s the author deliberating poking fun at the situation or just hilariously apt. Yes, Atarian has Reasons for hiding things from Olivia. He believes he’s giving her more ability to consent rather than, you know, giving her the knowledge and the chance to consent. As the dude previously decided kidnapping was a great recruitment tool, I can accept that his reasoning skills are flawed in general, but I still disliked it.
“Why did you abduct me?” I asked in a calm, stern voice.
His chest puffed, shoulders rolled. He turned away from the bloodstains in the corner.
“Acquired,” he corrected in a shockingly smooth voice, rich with an uncurrent [sic] that rumbled like ancient Viking chants and drumbeats. It was primal and authoritative. I raised my brow, unphased.
“Kidnapped,” I rebutted.
“Acquired,” he said again, crossing his arms.
So why did I rate this book so highly? I am a complete sucker for competency porn, and Olivia is so competent it’s scary (and also extremely unrealistic but we’re already talking about aliens with spikes and mandibles soooo). Come up with a plan to keep the bad guy from suspecting Atarian’s a plant? Check. Coax the traumatized humans into being rescued by people who look like their abusers? Check. Figure out ways to acclimate the humans into their new society? Check. Fall in love with the alien who kidnapped you in order to save a thousand humans? Fine, check. Olivia is resilient and someone who carefully considers her options before jumping in.
Given the whole kidnapping thing and oh the whole rescue operation, this is a super slow burn romance. Olivia’s almost immediately able to understand (at least logically) why Atarian made the unethical decision to kidnap her, it seemed to take longer for her to emotionally accept it. There’s chemistry almost immediately but there’s also a lot of reasons (or excuses) for why they shouldn’t act on the chemistry, all of which get carefully pared away as they interact more. They both act like idiots (though I will continue to argue that Atarian is the greater idiot) but it toed the “will they or won’t they?” line without making me completely frustrated. There’s some “fated mates” stuff in there that complicates things (of course) but I think it worked well enough. While it takes a while to get going, the “lessons” at the start of the book (sexy mandibles!) definitely set the stage for the banter and chemistry. It’s also got the adorable premise where basically the entire crew have decided they’re a cute couple loooong before they do.
Some of the side characters (and most of the humans) are pretty cookie cutter. The two standouts are Vin, Atarian’s second and the bad boy weapons dude, and Pom Pom, an alien kid who’s kinda Vin’s ward. Why she’s hanging out counting grenades on a peacekeeping missions ship isn’t explained (nor does Olivia ask WTF woman) but she was adorable. Besides a pint-size sidekick with a penchant for randomly falling out of things, Vin’s also got a suitably sketchy background and an evil ex. Basically, it was perfect sequel catnip and I definitely want to know more about them.
Overall, 3.5 stars, mostly due to Olivia’s sheer kickassed-ness. Since it looks like the next book is still about Olivia and Atarian, I’ll definitely be reading it.
Content notes: View Spoiler »