Regent Killian Larrestes survived a harrowing attack and the betrayal of his family by his mother, and has since worked to help them all recover, learning the complexities of protecting and commanding a large, sprawling Clan.
Shiloh Zahirris is seeking Sanctuary from a marriage he doesn’t want when he ends up under the protection of Killian Larrestes. Killian takes him in, and they find themselves falling in love. But will social objections, personal insecurities, and someone seeking revenge destroy their chance at happiness?
I regretfully was unable to finish this book. From the blurb, I expected more world building, and social and moral examinations of relationship, gender, and rank. Instead, much of the relationship between the two main characters happens off screen, the villains are barely one dimensional, and the world building is almost nonexistent. While the writing isn’t bad, I found myself unable to connect with the author’s writing style, their world, or their characters. However, my discomfort with the mental and physical age of some characters who are engaged in adult relationships is what ultimately led to this being a DNF for me.
Before I can go too far, I have to mention that the characters in this book are aliens. Rimalians landed on Earth some time ago and now live among humans in special enclaves where their own laws govern their people. They are psychic and can live for four or five thousand years, but other than that they are — as far as I know — able to pass for human. There seem to be no physical differences between the two species at all since it’s never mentioned. Rimalians are also considered adult at 14 or so, not due to biology, as far as I can tell, but “lessons.” If I hadn’t read the Foreword, however, I wouldn’t have known any of the characters were aliens, at all. I would have just thought that this was how humans on Earth lived in this book. There is sloppy world building with almost no explanations and it made it difficult for me to follow the story.
The book begins with a 13-year-old Killian walking home having fought off his would-be rapist, his fiancé Anan. Discussions about rape, and its aftermath, are the best parts of this book. The author takes the time to deal with Killian’s trauma and the fact that, for years — especially with the way his father raised him to be ashamed of his physical urges — he is left uninterested even in his own body, let alone anyone else’s. When Killian begins to realize he may have feelings for another young man, he seeks help from his mentor and therapist (a mind-healer, of sorts) who has a long talk with him about what the rape did to him, physically and emotionally. There is no shame or stigma, no one urging him to get over it; it’s gentle, it’s loving, and it’s handled very sensitively.
Roughly half of the book is written in third-person limited POV, where we are reading Killian’s story with Killian’s opinions, thoughts, and actions. However, at other points, we go from Killian’s story to a clinical, third person objective and back again. This happens several times. One that really stood out to me was the matter of Shiloh’s dogs. We, the reader, learn the story, while the actual people in the book don’t. They’re not even told their names. There’s also a passage of 12 weeks at Shiloh’s estate where we are told, in third person objective, that Killian and Shiloh’s relationship is evolving. We are not invited to read this part of the book and must take the author’s word for it. It feels as if a good half of this book is tell, not show, especially when anything dramatic was happening.
In the book, there are several villains. All of these villains, save Shiloh’s father, are — and forgive the vulgarity — badly written and batshit crazy. They feel EVIL for EVIL’s sake and to move the story along. Every female villain’s motives are confusing and seem to boil down to a hatred of men without any other reason. They lack depth, humanity, and character. When the council of psychic aliens asks Anan why she tried to rape Killian and steal Shiloh’s land, her reason is because she hates men. That was pretty much all there was to her. She hates men. And it was so cartoonish, so paper-thin, that I wondered if she had been written as a joke or satire. But when I finally got to the sex dungeon — an actual dungeon with chains, whips, and instruments of torture — that Anan, Anan’s mother, and Killian’s mother used to play with various men, that was it. I just couldn’t make myself finish.
However, as I said, there were some other areas that were difficult for me to understand or feel comfortable with in this book and ultimately led to my DNF rating. One is the fact that these men are considered adult at 13, which means that is a ripe age for marriage. While I understand aliens are different from humans, these men and women didn’t read as alien or other, to me; they just read like humans. Given that I didn’t really feel that they were different than us, this low age of adulthood didn’t work for me.
On top of that, there was the issue of the characters Jimmy and Riley. Jimmy is a young man with “developmental issues that amounted to mild retardation” or who, in a latter passage, is “borderline retarded.” He is 15 when he soul bonds to Jaden, Killian’s 10-year-old brother. Both children are mind controlled so that Jimmy will not express his sexual maturity until Jaden is old enough, at which point both young men are free to marry and do what married people do. But, no matter how old Jaden gets, Jimmy will always have these mental issues. Can Jimmy even give consent, soul bond aside? Adding another tangle into that is a third young man — whose age is never given — who wants to be part of their pairing. He’s attracted to Jimmy’s body (at age 15, Jimmy is physically mature) and finds Jaden “mentally attractive just as much as Jimmy was.” He’s attracted to two young men, who are mentally around 10 years old, but is being saintly enough to wait for them to be legally of age.
It’s a similar issue with another character, Riley, whose brain damage came from being caught in a cattle stampede when she was 10. Riley, whose mental age was first considered by doctors to be “forever be at the mental capacity of about a six- or seven-year-old” (but in Killian’s personal opinion is more like a ten-year-old) also soul bonds to a grown man. Physically she’s 16, so is able to marry, but consent issues are a tricky thing. No child at this mental level can give consent to a sexual relationship.
I could not connect with the characters and I could not, personally, view the Rimalians as aliens. They read too human, to me, which made the issues of age very uncomfortable and unsettling. The writing isn’t bad, but I struggled to get into this book. There are some interesting ideas here in the Rimalian society, but parts of it were unexplored, such as the matriarchal society. I just couldn’t get a feel for the world, never gelled with the writing, and couldn’t get past the consent issues.