Jem is a man seeking a new life, one free from the years he’s served as a dedicated, yet battered, spouse to his husband Bellamy. Bellamy wanted to marry his love, Sasha, but he agreed to marry Jem in order to take his place as second-in-command of the Planetary Union. As we learn via flashback, Jem was subject to Bell’s extreme displeasure with a male mate, and Bell repeatedly raped, humiliated, and battered Jem to the brink of near death, and then caused Jem to recover in stasis so he could continue his sadistic brutalization. Jem engineers his own “death” but errs when his derelict ship is sucked into the atmosphere on Xol.
Xol’s new King Ellis is a witness and rescuer when Jem ship crashes. It’s a big problem for Ellis as he’s unwillingly drawn to Jem, who—it turns out—is Xolani, a subspecies of Xolans who are naturally submissive and readily sought for loyal consorts. The first segment of the book is Jem recovering from his many injuries upon impact on Xol. He also learns of his Xolani heritage and has very mixed feelings regarding it. He fears intimacy after his marriage to Bellamy, yet it seems as if he’s imprinted on Ellis, and Ellis on him—each man feels a pull to the other. But Jem has so many secrets to keep, most particularly regarding his history with Bellamy and his ties to the Planetary Union.
Ellis takes Jem home, and thus begins their courtship. This takes time, as per Ellis’ wishes. I liked that. Jem has been so sexually brutalized, eighteen years of abuse at Bellamy’s hand, that he’s unable to sort through his emotions, or even his desires. He feels attraction, but has a metric ton of body issues—to the point that he abhors his own nudity, even as he can appreciate Ellis’ form.
As they move forward and marry, Jem’s secrets are standing between their intimacy. All of this was slowly revealed, with really interesting alien characters taking roles here. Bellamy, of course, appears, putting the nail in the coffin of Jem’s happiness. It seems that an accord will be made regarding the “death” of Jem, but Bellamy is not one to accept a slight, even if he has no love for Jem.
Expect there to be some harrowing bits, where Jem develops the strength to fight for himself, to save himself, if for no other reason than to save his unborn child. Oh, did I forget to mention that this is an mpreg tale? Yep, and I really dug that aspect. I also felt that the depressive episodes Jem experiences are totally in line with his traumatic history. Readers should be aware of the scenes of domestic violence if that is a trigger.
I did have some trouble with the prose. Jem and Ellis tell this tale, and there were times I didn’t know whom was thinking/speaking. Also, there are many internal thoughts and the stream of consciousness was sometimes overwhelming. I felt that the beginning was rough, because I didn’t have a good grasp on the characters. So much action was taking place, and I struggled to keep up. This was especially difficult as Jem was performing a double-double-cross to throw off any people who might be on his trail (BELLAMY!!) and I didn’t have the appropriate context to keep tabs on all of this in the moment.
That said, as I delved deeper and learned about Jem, I really liked this more and more. I wished I had a bit more of Ellis, though. Mostly I see him as Jem’s savior, admirer, protector, and husband. I wished I could have seen a bit more of him in his Kingly context. The first bit had me thinking this was a 3-star book, but getting to the end moved it up to 3.5. Maybe a 4 if you really like sci-fi, as this book is a rather intense sci-fi drama, with a side order of romance. The sexytimes between Ellis and Jem are lovely and tender, and thankfully they overshadow the horrific battery/rape scenes of Bellamy and Jem.