Like many other human children, Zerek had been raised on stories of the Great Journey, when humanity — on their vast and powerful spaceships — voyaged out into the darkness between the stars and came at last to rest on a new world. A world already populated with other races, the Hilruda and the Kadrussians, humanoid and sentient and posessing a lower level of technology. Several generations of peace and coexistance ended abruptly in a violent civil war that left humans cut off from the rest of their kind and vulnerable to the depredations of the natives.
What followed was a time known to humanity as the Bitter Silence. The Hilruda, aware of the danger posed by this new species, were swift with their vengeance. Humans were no longer allowed to pursue scientific arts and were instead used as slaves, given the most wretched of tasks and soul-crushing work, or sent to fight in the pits of Stony Gate.
Known to the Hildruda as the “smuggling scourge of the human infestation,” Zerek is is the newest arrival at Stony Gate. Not that he intends on staying there long. He has a crew to rescue and a reputation to maintain. As the leader and hero of the human resistance, he doesn’t have time to waste entertaining the leech-like Hilruda. Zarek’s plans for an escape — which he was still working on! — are helped by the arrival of a small group of the snake-like Kadrussians who manage to spirit him away from Stony Gate. Unfortunately for Zerek, this wasn’t an act of altriusim. Their leader, Essian, needs someone with Zerek’s particular set of skills. He needs a smuggler, and item he needs smuggled is himself.
Essian’s people, too, are tired of the Hildura. As a prince among his people, Essian is trying to unite the Kadrussians, to regain their territory and power before it’s too late. To do this he must find a way into the various palaces and cities of other Kadrussian princes unseen by the Hilruda. Zerek knows the secret ways and knows how to avoid attention and Hildruda patrols. While Zerek isn’t adverse to working with Essian — and maybe doing a bit more than ‘working’ — ideals are all well and good, but the safety and freedom of his crew are more important. Once Essian assures him that they are unharmed and protected from the Hilruda, Zerek agrees to help the prince with his scheme. Traveling with Essian not only brings certain desires and emotions to life, it also gives Zerek a small glimmer of hope. Perhaps by allying themselves, humans and Kadrussians together, they might find a way to save both their people. And while they’re saving the world, perhaps they can have a little bit of fun together. After all, what’s an adventure without a little romance?
There was a great deal of potential in this novella. Zerek is more than a little charming, and the world Burns created hints at so much more beneath the surface. Unfortunately, this book is all surface.
The world is painfully shallow. There’s more telling than showing, especially in regards to the Hilruda menace. The scenes in Stony Gate are effective, showing us the dank and dark conditions where prisoners are kept. The fight between Zerek and other humans brings home how inhumanely they’re treated, and Zerek’s reactions to having to fight them give us great insight to his character.
But after that it’s all exposition. The Kadrussians are very two-dimensional, falling into the noble-barbarian culture with very little depth beyond that. Essian, in particular, suffers from this. He’s so remote and opaque it’s hard to see any personality in him, and while his teeth and skin color are mentioned, he comes across as human as Zerek. I never got the feeling that he was from another race, let alone another culture.
There was also no chemistry between he and Zerek, as far as I could tell. Zerek was interested in him physically — very intersted — but I never had the sense of any emotional involvement on either side. Insta-lust is all well and good, but they went from insta-lust to insta-love with barely a heartbeat in between and I think the book suffered for it.
I was more interested in the story the book wasn’t telling — the story of the initial landing, or the story of the civil war, the story of how three races learned to deal with one another or even the story of the human rebellion — rather than the story it gave me. Burns is a skilled author and Zerek was an interesting character, but this story and this romance didn’t totally work for me.