Tobias Mars was once in love with his best friend, but it never progressed beyond furtive looks and wistful longing. Dante found love in the arms of another man and Tobias accepts this, pleased they can still be friends. While conveying a very important guest to their home planet, the men pause on a nearby water world. There, Tobias and Dante manage to pick up a young man running from pirates. Who he is and where he’s from they don’t know. Considering the rank of their guest and the wedding soon to happen, they are understandably cautious with their unexpected visitor. The young man could easily be a spy, or simply the innocent victim he seems to be.
Tobias knows he should be careful, but something about Dreft tugs at his heart, urging him to trust the young man. He visits him in the hospital, hoping for another look into those guileless eyes, or to see a smile on those sweet lips. But when Tobias learns the truth about who Dreft is — or who he claims to be — it only makes matters worse, not better. If Dreft is telling the truth, his very presence could change everything, and alter diplomatic relations between two worlds.
A warning to those reading this review. There are issues in this book dealing with survivors of rape or abuse that I feel are handled poorly and offensively. If this is something that concerns you or could cause you pain, I would avoid this book and this review.
Tobias Mars is a pilot in an elite unit, though why the unit is elite, what the unit does, or anything about his status as a pilot are never addressed. Tobias has had, and still somewhat has, a crush on his best friend, Dante, who is quite happy with his lover — though he’s aware Tobias still has feelings for him. Tobias wants to find love of his own and thinks he may have found it in the lovely young man they find running from pirates.
The young man is beautiful, and Tobias is quite taken with his physical beauty. The idea of soulmates, fated mates, love at first sight — call it what you will — can work and even be romantic, though it’s really not one of my favorite tropes. But here, it’s just one man eyeing an unconscious figure of someone they think has been a “plaything” of pirates, looking at the young man’s body and thinking I’d hit that. It’s not romantic. It’s creepy.
When Dreft wakes up and sets eyes on Tobi, he feels as if he can trust this man. He quickly tells Tobias that he was kidnapped into slavery and that he wasn’t with the pirates voluntarily. Dreft reveals his true name and that he’s royalty. He is, in fact, the brother of the prince that Tobias and Dante are transporting, though Dreft doesn’t know Leo is on the ship. Tobias brings this matter to their chief of security and they decide to test Dreft, inviting him to the dinner without letting him know who will be there. Tobias hopes the young man proves to be innocent and thus worthy of his growing love.
Dreft, as a person, is rather undeveloped. One moment he’s a young innocent quivering in the slightest breeze, the next he’s determined to make his own way in the world — casting aside the family he was kidnapped from, the family who were told he was dead — so that he, too, can be an elite pilot. For someone who was kidnapped from his home and both enslaved and regularly beaten for five years, Dreft seems to get over things pretty quickly. He shows no signs of trauma, no signs of fear, or even concern. He just … wants a job?
The plot twist was predictable and the ending equally so. The characters were flat and lackluster and the writing was very juvenile with so much filler — describing someone brushing their teeth, going over actions step by step, describing small things in painstaking detail, and having everyone’s eyes fill with their emotions — that it made for tedious reading. Normally, these are things that would cause me to give a book a fairly low review, but this book has only one star because of the message I feel it sends regarding rape and abuse victims.
The book makes a clear separation between a “whore” or prostitute who is voluntarily selling themselves, versus a “plaything” who is a victim of abuse. The characters appear to view a plaything with disgust, while being perfectly fine with prostitutes, as if the fact that the playthings are victims somehow makes them less.
When Tobias learns of Dreft’s background, he seems to feel instant regret that the stranger he’s already building a castle in the air for might just be a “plaything.” For his part, Dreft seems to really want to ensure that this handsome stranger is aware that Dreft wasn’t a plaything and that he was not sexually abused, though he was often beaten over his five years on the ship. In later scenes, it becomes clear that being a plaything is worse than being either a slave or a whore. As an example, neither Tobias nor Dante have any issue with Dante’s lover bringing a friend along to dinner so Tobi can get his rocks off. Not a blind date, not a possible boyfriend, the other man is there simply so Tobias can sleep with him. This young man, though, is not a plaything, he’s a whore, and I feel there’s a clear line drawn here that a whore is acceptable and being a plaything is not. In this world, we’re told that being a companion, a whore, is prestigious, almost revered. Compare that to the actions every character has as the mere thought that someone could be a plaything. Is it because being a whore gives some idea of agency to the person, that they make the choice to sell themselves and so sleeping with them is more acceptable?
A plaything, in this world, is a victim of sexual abuse. Of rape. It’s not simply that they are traumatized or hurt, there’s something wrong with them. As I read this story, it felt like the characters see being a plaything — a victim — as dirty. They are worthy of pity, but not love. Dreft is pure, almost completely untouched sexually; in fact, he’s never been the bottom in a sexual relationship. While as a slave on the ship he was never raped, though someone did hold a gun to his head and demand a blow job, Dreft somehow managed to get through it and the man in question was punished. This means Dreft doesn’t face the stigma of rape and kidnap victim. He gets to be a virgin for his lover, even with all that he’s endured. (There’s also a mention of two “playthings” on the pirate ship who declined to escape, and the undercurrent of ‘they deserve what they get,’ as the whole issue — and their existence, along with the pirates who kidnapped and beat Dreft — is never dealt with again.)
This book feels unhealthy. The message it’s sending feels, honestly, vile. The book seems to say it’s okay to be a whore and to use whores, but it’s not okay to be someone who was raped. Writing aside, predictable ending aside, the lack of characterization aside, this did not work for me and I strongly urge people to avoid it.