It has been a million years since the Empire fell, an empire ruled by mysterious beings with advances far beyond what humanity can manage, even now. Academics study their writing, their history, their wonders, and their artifacts while tomb raiders and pirates steal these treasures and sell them to the highest bidder. Park Ki-tae is an agent and student of archaeology and ancient languages who has dedicated his life to keeping Imperial treasures out of private collections and keeping Imperial sites from being destroyed by careless vandals. He’s good at his job, very good at it. Well-respected and climbing the ladder, there is only one thorn in his side: Beau Johnson.
In college they were rivals. They fought about everything, from philosophy, to history, to judo. Beau could never ruffle Ki-tae’s perfect calm and Ki-tae could never best the spoiled, handsome Beau. Ki-tae spent months working, slaving over his thesis, with peer reviews, revisions, headaches, and sleepless nights; Beau whipped his out in only a day or two and it was, of course, brilliant. Ki worked hard for every grade he had and Beau — lazy, spoiled, drunken hedonist that he was — was class valedictorian. Beau was the Institute’s first choice, but he turned them down for a life of adventure, so they went for choice number two — student number two — Ki-tae.
Ki has never forgiven Beau, not just for school. Beau took his grades, bested him in judo contests, stole his best friend, and has been the object of his obsession ever since the fateful night where debate and drinking led to a long and unforgettable night of raw, furious sex in Beau’s dorm room. But that was years ago and Ki’s obsession, now, is purely work-related.
A ruthless and rich investor, Mr. King, has hired Beau and Marz to find the mythical Eltique Enivakara, an Imperial object rumored to allow the living to communicate with the dead. No one believes it exists, but King is willing to pay them a small fortune just for looking, and an even larger one should their search prove to be successful. Beau and Marz agree, partly for the adventure… but mostly for the cash. Little did they know that Ki-tae would be quick on their heels. The Enivakara has long been a fascination for him, the subject of his master’s thesis. He’ll be damned if he’ll let his holy grail fall into King’s hands, let alone Beau’s.
The is a fun sci-fi romp reminiscent of Firefly, vague in its details, but lush in its people. There are paper files and paperwork, cups of coffee and tea, and intricate space suits and portable habs. One of the small touches that truly sold the world to me was the use of judo and the wooden swords (jo and bokken) in place of guns. In a world of space ships and space stations where projectiles could damage vital equipment, using non-lethal bamboo weapons makes sense.
Ki-tae is… inexorable. He worked hard in school to get his grades, he works hard in his job to gain advancement, and works hard at judo, studying with instructors almost daily to keep himself, always, at his best. Even when languishing on a ship waiting for nothing to happen, Ki is practicing and thinking and preparing. He’s obsessive, dogged, and clinical. His thoughts on Beau, though, are anything but. He can’t let go of the past they didn’t have, and he can’t get over the fact that Beau beat him.
Beau, for his part, has lived his life having fun. He likes what he does: going to new places, meeting new people, making money. Not that money’s ever been an issue for him. He’s rich. Very, very rich. His aunt is a powerful lawyer — which has come in useful a few times, especially when Ki-tae almost had him caught — and his grandmother was once the President of the United States. Seeing Ki again, after so long, brings back memories of that fateful night.
After their first meeting Beau has a marvelous idea: he’ll seduce Ki! It’s all for the sake of the job, of course. He’ll get Ki to let them know how he found out about their search for the Enivakara, and to find out just how he knew where to find Beau and his ship. It’s a fool-proof plan! Except that Ki isn’t interested in playing along, or being played. Both Ki and Beau enter into the flirtation and seduction with open eyes, or so they think, each of them fooling themselves into thinking that these little games are calculated affairs rather than affairs of the heart.
Beau is perhaps more honest, aware that he wants to sleep with Ki, that he’s never quite gotten over their first, last, and only night together. He likes flustering the other man, making the immaculate and icy inspector get red faced and angry, but sometimes he pushes too far and rather than simply flustering Ki, he ends up pissing him off. Ki obsesses, keeping everything inside, all his wants and desires. He almost never makes the first move; it’s not that he’s unwilling, it’s just that he needs more time to sit and brood and think his way through a situation (perhaps a few more years?).
The world building is sketchy in this book; the Imperial aliens and their device — who drive the plot of this book — are merely window dressing for Ki and Beau. Beau pushes, Ki pulls back, and then broods until Beau manages to bridge the distance between them. It’s a slightly unbalanced dynamic, but not so much so that it detracts from their chemistry. However, Beau comes across as a more thoroughly defined person than Ki who ends up feeling very one-note throughout the story.
Beau has moments of charming idiocy, cool ruthlessness, and compassion, showing different sides of himself to his employer, his rival, and his crew. Ki is old, efficient, and while he’s thorough — and I imagine he’s very good at paperwork — he’s not that smart where it concerns people. There are two points in the book in particular where Ki takes Beau and Beau’s actions at face value, even knowing the other man is a scoundrel who is out to steal a priceless relic from under his nose. Maybe there’s a reason he was number two in his class.
Despite a few flaws and a few nitpicks here and there, I very much enjoyed this book. The story move along quickly and watching Ki and Beau go from rivals to reluctant lovers to not-so-reluctant lovers was satisfying. I do wish there’d been a smidge more world building, but… that’s just me.