Rating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel

Tristol is a galoi living in exile. He now lives aboard a space station acting as a diplomatic liaison. The job suits Tris as he is friendly and outgoing and enjoys exploring new things. He also is very interested in the sexy Detective Drey Hastion, who works aboard the station. Drey is very into Tris as well, but galoi have a reputation for having many partners and that is not the type of relationship that interests Drey. But as it turns out, Tristol is very much interested in a monogamous relationship with Drey and the two begin exploring being together.

The galoi are notoriously xenophobic and keep almost completely to themselves. So it is a shock when a galoi ship reaches out to the space station asking for help. What’s even more surprising is that there has been a murder aboard their ship, something unheard of as the galoi don’t have crime and don’t even have a word for murder in their language. They are requesting Drey come aboard and help them figure out what happened.

Together Tristol and Drey begin to investigate who killed the man found dead in his room, and what the motivation might be behind it. At the same time, the pair continue to build a relationship between them and may just find long-term happiness together.

The 5th Gender is a really engaging story that combines humor, romance, and a little bit of mystery. The first thing that struck me here is the playful tone to the story. Fans of Carriger’s San Andreas Shifters series will recognize the style with a lot of humor and silliness amidst the more serious plot elements. Much of the source of the humor comes from Tristol, who is fairly acclimated to life among humans, but also at times has a sense of shock and wonder that adds a lot of fun to the story. For example, early on Tristol is cat sitting for a friend while she is away:

Now, several rotations later, Elle and Olav had invited Tris to cat-sit, and Tristol was beyond honored. Although cat-sit was another odd word. Tris hoped he was not meant to actually sit on top of Mister Montiguous. He did not think either of them would enjoy that. In fact, it seemed to work the other way around. The cat would occasionally sit atop him in some kind of primitive dominance display, as if Tristol were mere furniture designed specifically for one dictatorial carnivore. Tris accepted this status gravely.

In addition to the fun that Tristol provides, much of the world building centers around him and his fellow galoi. Tristol is a humanoid alien with lavender skin and tentacle-like hair. The galoi have five genders and each has a very different role. They also keep very much to themselves, so other species know almost nothing about them. Tristol is an exile, but even more, he is considered to no longer exist in the eyes of galoi, which adds another dynamic to the investigation. I appreciated that the galoi are not just aliens who are human in all but appearance. Instead, they view the world entirely differently than humans, from cultural and social norms, to standards of beauty and aesthetics, to the way they view gender and sex. Carriger does a really nice job here developing the rules for their species and providing some creative world building. It not only serves to give nice character development for Tristol himself, but plays nicely into the larger mystery of who is behind the murder.

The story starts off with Tris and Drey a bit at odds because both like one another, but think the other isn’t interested. They quickly work through this confusion, however, and then jump into a pretty quick and serious relationship. Although things are fast, the guys have a clear past with one another, so it didn’t feel too quick for me, even as they are pretty committed almost immediately. They men have an intense sexual relationship, so expect some human/alien sex (though their bodies are pretty compatible) with a little bit of tentacle fun in the form of Tristol’s tentacle-like hair. These guys are super sweet and sexy together, and I found them a fun couple.

Alongside this relationship is the mystery of who killed the galoi aboard the ship. This is sort of a low key mystery that really serves more as a way to learn more about Tristol and the galoi than as a hard hitting plot element, but I think it worked well and things tie together nicely.

So I found this one a lot of fun. Carriger manages to mix humor and playfulness with some nice world building and a more serious exploration of gender roles and sense of self. This looks to be the first of a series, so I am really intrigued by where things may go from here. I definitely will be following along.

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