Heart Scarab is set nearly two years after the events of the first story, Gyrfalcon, as Shield Captain Bennet manages to evacuate the civilians trapped on the planet Telnos, which is overrun by their enemies, the Maess. But in the process he is left behind. Everyone thinks Bennet is dead, including his life partner, Joss. Well, except Bennet’s former lover, Flynn. Will there be a rescue…?
Like Gyrfalcon, this is not a traditional M/M romance. This is a sci fi epic drama with main characters who happen to be gay. In fact, the romance plays such a small part here, overall, that I hesitate even calling this a romance. So, if you’re expecting all hearts and flowers, not to mention repeated acts of hot sex, you won’t find much of that here. Be forewarned.
The beginning of the story focuses a lot on the military side, the complicated relationship between the Fleet and the Shield. When Bennet gets trapped on Telnos, a group of survivors with him, this turns into a survival drama until an escape plot is hatched. A couple of strong side characters come in, like an orphaned boy Bennet needs to keep safe. There are, however, a lot of intermediary scenes where other side characters, who are not on Telnos, handle Bennet’s assumed demise in different ways. I don’t think these scenes were all strictly speaking necessary, as they slowed the plot.
During the whole Telnos debacle, Bennet is injured and has to spend weeks in a hospital after their rescue. This bit is where the relationship triangle steps up to the plate. Bennet’s been together for years with Joss, a much older academic type. They’re basically playing house, as good as married. When he was younger, Bennet pursued Joss. Now Bennet acts like an ass. Joss wants Bennet to leave the service and stay at home, safe and sound. Bennet sees this as an indication that he’s weak. While in the first book I found Joss whiny and clingy and not endearing at all, he sure didn’t deserve all the anger Bennet pours at him. I was kind of surprised. Then I realized Bennet has a kind of personality that needs to be center stage, as in it’s his way or the highway. In any case, if the intent of this plotline was to make me sympathetic of a character I previously despised, well, in that this succeeds.
While still together with Joss, Bennet had a short affair with a pilot named Flynn in the first book. They’re pining for each other. Flynn comes to the hospital, and he and Bennet have a glorious weeks-long fuck-fest. Now, in the first book, I considered Flynn to be the most honest of the trio, a self-proclaimed charmer who has lots of no-strings-attached sex. He doesn’t even pretend to want a stable, long-term relationship. In this book, however, I couldn’t quite get into Bennet and Flynn’s sudden shift to the super-hot-sex-means-we’re-in-love twist. I mean, Bennet is a devout supporter of the no-fraternization rule—and yet he’s cavorting with Flynn; and Flynn likes uncomplicated sex—but now wants just Bennet, their quickborn love breaking their hearts when they have to separate again due to their work duties? Neither of their initial personalities supported this twist, and it didn’t work for me. That, plus Bennet’s heinous treatment of Joss, and the whole romance triangle fell short to this particular reader. Yes, admittedly this is basically Bennet’s journey, his path to change and to grow apart from Joss who is no longer a fitting companion for him… but does it have to be so cruel?
The first book in this series was a wonderful combination of sci fi epic and romance, the balance just right. Here the world-building is still awesomely detailed and refined, even if the speech patterns read a bit awkward at times (UK English?), and the plot shines when Bennet’s on Telnos. That place is described vividly and comes off as a really bad place to be. Best parts of the book, in my honest opinion.
The end leaves a clear opening for the third in the series, called Makepeace. Bennet and Flynn are obviously wanting to be together, but duty drives them apart. Joss is pretty much done for here, and I fail to see what his character could contribute in future stories. However, a minor thread suggests both Bennet and Flynn, when separated, might get involved with… women…? Bennet and Rosie…? Flynn and Cruz…? Hmm….
Overall, though weaker than the first book in the series, Heart Scarab continues the storyline well. The melodrama could be toned down in favor of the more sci fi elements, to be sure, and I’m hoping future stories reflect that favorable trend by giving greater emphasis to the aspects that made the first book shine.