Regenerates—or “regens” for short—are quite literally test-tube babies. Genetically engineered to be stronger, faster, and smarter than average humans, they can also regulate body temperature and heal at super accelerated rates. Regens have been created to fight their creators’ wars for them and to help them achieve this goal, regens are also supposed to be devoid of emotion.
Kim Fortune, sixth born in the very first batch of regens, falls short of the super-soldier mark. Not only is he unfit for combat since he lacks the enhanced physical attributes, but he’s full of emotion. Dissatisfied with the role he was created for, Kim breaks free only to wind up stranded on a planet inhabited by hostile felines and no means of escape. When another ship crash lands on this inhospitable planet, hope springs eternal for Kim. Not only because there’s a chance of getting off planet, but because the presence of another regen gives him a sliver of hope that finally, finally he might be able to forge a real bond.
Christian Novak is another kind of “first” in the regen world. He was the first successful regen created. He possesses all the traits for which regens are prized, including the lack of emotion. Yet he feels drawn to Kim from the moment they first lay eyes on each other. At first, he assumes it’s simply attraction. As the two of them face down one hardship after another, however, something begins to shift. Christian soon finds himself taking action that goes far beyond the obvious lust he feels for Kim.
When they end up prisoners in the care of the very people who used Christian as their champion in war, things look dire. As much as Kim wants to give in and be with Christian, he’s wary that Christian’s feelings for him go no further than his pants. As for Christian himself, he has a hard time understanding why he takes the risks he does to make and keep Kim safe.
The first chunk of this book really pulled me into the situation. Throughout the book, Lyons takes pains to build a world that the reader can clearly picture. I found this most successfully executed in the feline-infested planet. We are introduced to Kim Fortune as the narrator (first person) and get a brief introduction to the hostile environment where he’s been existing solo before the supporting cast/love interest are introduced. I also appreciated that we get to see these principle characters all living and interacting in this same environment before the plot starts heading off into space adventure territory.
Many aspects of the book serve a rather utilitarian function. Most of the supporting cast interacted with the principles in a pretty stilted manner; I never got a clear sense that the main characters were interacting on a personal level with the supporting characters. Also, there are a few elements that come across like they were purely for convenience. Take, for example, the buildings Kim and the others take cover in while the deadly felines are out and about. These structures are decades old, yet still function with power and water and all the basics of life support as if they’d never been abandoned. Similarly, the science-y bits aren’t really expounded on…the ships they zip around galaxies on are powered by special lasers and the human/regen characters spend the decades of travel time suspended in “cryo.” That is to say, they have cryogenic capabilities so that they will not age or anything during the long hauls between galaxies. There is precious little to substantiate how/why these traveling capabilities are even possible (there are “power cells” that power the ships), let alone necessary (are people fleeing alien attacks, intergalactic war, interdemensional trade? We don’t know.). This lack of details makes it more like a science fantasy rather than science fiction in the true sense. Even so, I was mostly okay with that because I’m reading for the romance.
Another thing I really liked is how there is so. much. damn. tension! between Kim and Christian (who goes by Novak for most of the novel). There was so much to bate the breath of the reader, I was honestly looking forward to reading about how their whole dynamic would play out.
For example, while still on the feline planet and the desire is still running under the skin, we have this gloriously angst-filled interaction between Kim and Novak:
“They told you [the first regen experiment] R6 was a failure, didn’t they? You’ve come across plenty of people who are suspicious and disgusted by regens, and I suspect, no one else like me. You think everyone has the same opinion?” He spoke in little more than a whisper. “You’re wrong.” He drew back and walked away, leaving mess lumped against the wall. My chest heaved and sweat trickled down my spine.
I felt a jumble of things all at once: fear, excitement, hope, arousal, denial. Everything that made me more human than regenerate. Suddenly I was angry at myself; angry that I felt so much. The one person I wanted to get close to, to pour everything out to, wouldn’t understand. I so desperately wanted to form a connection to him in particular, more than the obvious attraction, because we came from the same place, but we weren’t alike in many ways. All he wanted was the physical experience I knew nothing of, other than what I’d read, and seen, and heard. I wanted so much more.
When the group finally manages to escape the cat planet, they end up having to crash land on the very planet Novak escaped from. During the dramatic landing, we see first hand the mettle of Kim’s character as he saves Novak from being sucked out of their breached ship:
I…noticed [Novak] sliding along the floor toward the now open tail section, crawling frantically for something to grab to save himself. He managed to get hold of the webbing usually used to secure supplied…but his weight, increased by the suction of the ship’s speed, made the fabric tear.
“Shit,” I muttered. “Shit!” I didn’t think, but acted on instinct. I unstrapped myself and crawled around the back of my seat, holding tight to it for a moment before I launched myself toward [another seat]. Gripping the steel base of [the] seat, I sprawled out flat and hooked my leg around it. I could just reach Novak when I stretched my arm to him, and I fastened my hand around his wrist. The webbing ripped away from its securing rings and suddenly, over a hundred kilos of muscle dragged at my arm. My shoulder popped loose from its socket with an audible click, and I ground my teeth together to stop myself screaming…I was strong enough to hold on, but my body wasn’t build to withstand being pulled apart. The muscles tore and I hissed and moaned. Then to my horror, Novak released my wrist. I opened my eyes and turned my head so I could meet his gaze.
“Kim, let go,” he said softly.
So we’ve got these two character who are obviously attracted to each other, but ostensibly want very different things (Novak: sex; Kim: a relationship). Nevertheless, they act towards and react to one another with a seemingly unconscious dedication listed above (Kim risking life and limb to save Novak; Novak going back to the planet that enslaved him to save Kim later in the story). And yet…all this takes a huge nose dive when Kim turns into this whiney damsel in distress about everything. In typical melodrama fashion, it starts when Kim awakes from post-coital bliss. The two have just had sex while under captivity on the very planet where Novak used to serve as a slave warrior. Before long, Novak will be pressed back into service fighting in wars and Kim will be forced to work in a factory.
When I woke…Novak was still beside me. He lay with his back to me and I could tell from his uneven breathing that he was awake.
I wanted to roll over and snuggle up to him or say something, but my confidence failed me. It was a new day and what had happened between us was hours ago. I’d almost forgotten the last words he said to me; “I’ll find you.” All I could think about was that I had no experience at this. Setting aside the sexual contact, I’d never interacted with others on this level of closeness, and I couldn’t think of a thing to say. Instead, I imagined Novak had woken and changed his mind…Maybe he just wanted to get away from me. He didn’t feel anything for me. It was how he was made.
This is a mode of thinking that utterly permeates the Kim character for the rest of the book (some 60% plus). Sure, getting your heart broke sucks but Kim constantly tells himself Novak couldn’t possibly return real emotion; even when Novak sends mixed signals that indicate he just might feel something more than lust for Kim, it’s not like there were declarations of undying love and devotion. I was therefore kind of pissed off that, after having sex, Kim suddenly rolls over and basically gives up because he’s convinced he’ll never have anything with Novak. Even when Novak does make good on his promise to “find him” and staging a daring escape from the planet that would have imprisoned them both, Kim continues on his downward spiral and sort of stops functioning. The overall effect was, for me, ruinous for half of the main couple.
Part of what redeems this story are the few chapters thrown in from Novak’s point of view. I really liked being privy to his thoughts; it was sort of brave that Lyons chose to show him as being sympathetic to Kim’s emotions but not entirely reciprocal of them. For me, that was crazy awesome because it hits at the heart of what’s driving Kim crazy and we, the reader, get a first-hand account of what’d going through Novak’s mind. Even as Novak’s thought processes kind of reinforce that maybe, just maybe, Kim’s fears are well-founded, the reader can’t help but clutch at straws that maybe, just maybe, he’s capable of some emotion. That said, I didn’t feel that there was nearly enough balance between their two narrations to help me clearly see what transitions these characters might make with regards to their base desires (Kim’s being to find love; Novak’s being to have sex).
Overall, the story starts out strong with delightfully imagined tropes (super humans in space, romancing a rock, etc.) but fizzles as the story gets mired in Kim’s “he loves me, he loves me not” angst and misses the opportunity to flesh out both sides of this relationship by having only a few chapters told from Novak’s perspective. If you’re looking for something like a space opera, you’d probably enjoy this. If you’re a hard-line science fiction fan or dislike defeatist characters, this book may not be for you.