Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: John Solo
Length: 6 hours, 57 minutes
Liam traded a talent for languages to get himself away from the front lines. Between civil wars with other human planets, dangerous aliens, and a past he would rather forget, Liam needs a quiet place to recover. The anxiety attacks, the nightmares, the memories, none of it is gone … but it’s quieter, here, on the Rownt homeworld where he works as a trader, selling human goods for alien foods and the all important ores and metals the army needs for its ongoing conflicts.
One day, Liam meets Ondry, a Rownt trader who is willing to teach Liam more than training manuals can. With Ondry’s help, Liam is learning more words and butcher’s the Rownt language less and less. He’s also becoming a better trader — and for the Rownt, being a good trader means wealth, rank, and respect — and, in the five years the two of them spend trading together, Liam is also seeing Ondry as a friend.
When a new officer threatens not only the peaceful relations between humans and Rownt, but Liam’s life, as well, Ondry steps forward to make the unthinkable trade.
Liam grew up in the slums and let himself believe that a charming man with a winning smile loved him enough to lift him up. Instead, he was used, hurt, broken rather than trained, and turned into a whore. His submissive side was carefully shaped with an eye to pain and obedience, and it broke Liam. Fortunately, he was able to get out — but only through selling his body again, this time to the army. The front line only made things worse, and it was only because of Liam’s native intelligence that he was able to get a posting to the Rownt homeworld where he turned every bit of energy into learning their complex language and intricate trading culture.
The Rownt view trading as a weapon, a skill, and a form of communication. They are larger than humans, more literal, more clinical, and governed by a council of old, powerful women who have already brought life to the next generation before they remove themselves to become grandmothers of their people. Ondry is a talented trader who the grandmothers have taken great interest in. When he first takes an interest in Liam, it’s more a curiosity — and a recognition of Liam’s own curiosity in return. Liam isn’t hostile; he’s trying to be friendly. And Ondry cultivates it. When other humans threaten Liam, when Colonel Thackeray crushes LIam back into the cold, hurt shard of a person, Ondry is angry. He’s seen Liam grow, seen him laugh, seen him share. So Ondry takes Liam away from the humans. He sees what Liam is, what he’s capable of, and he’s determined to protect Liam even from himself.
While there is sex in this book, of a sort, sex isn’t the heart of the relationship between Liam and Ondry. Trust is. Ondry trusting that Liam won’t run away, Liam trusting that Ondry won’t hurt him even as he offers up the key to his heart. Liam longs to be owned — it’s how he was trained, how he knows love is meant to be. and when Ondry chains him to the bed, he takes it as it’s meant to be taken: a sign of love, a sign of caring. When Ondry mentions taking the chains off, Liam tells him that he doesn’t mind the chain, that maybe he likes it.
Because Ondry is an alien, he sees Liam’s needs and wants differently; there’s no shame involved, any more than if Liam said he liked having his ears licked. Liam is already an other to Ondry, Liam wants to feel protected, wants to feel as if it’s impossible for him to hurt himself, and Ondry is more than willing to help him feel that way. When the matter of sex is raised, it’s more scientific than sexual, and when Ondry brings Liam to release, it’s done because Liam enjoys it, and wants it, and Ondry enjoys being able to give him that pleasure. For the Rownt, sex isn’t nice or fun. When Liam wants to return the favor, to give Ondry pleasure, to make him happy, Ondry shows him how.
Trust and communication are the links in the chain that tie Liam and Ondry together. However, the book ends just as the two of them are beginning their journey. We see how they come together, how they come to trust one another, and then it’s over. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, but it does leave you wanting book two in the Claimings series!
I was given the audio version of this book to review, and this is one of the cases where the audio version has shaped my opinion of a character so much so that I don’t think I would be able to approach the written version of the book without seeing it through Jonn Solo’s voice. When the story first opens, the narration is stuttering, from an almost flat, clinical manner, to a hesitant pleasure, or a nervous, high timorousness that lets you know instantly everything you need to know about Liam, about how hurt he is, how flighty and uncertain. It’s one thing to read how a character’s backstory shaped them, or to infer their brittle fragility from everything hidden between the lines, but Solo lets you hear it from paragraph one.
Ondry’s personality is a little less developed, because he’s not the focus of the book the way Liam is, though he’s Liam’s focus. The narrator, though, gives Ondry’s words a staccato curtness, a clipped and cold edge that hint at the stoicism that seems to be inherent in the Rownt world. I never doubt his desire to care for Liam — or his desire to learn everything he can about humans from Liam — just as I never doubt his alien nature. It’s particularly amusing during the sex scenes where Liam is needy and gasping and Ondry is curious and trying to hold a conversation with his human.