The universe is vast and filled with amazing things, from the human race rising to space from their small blue planet, to planets filled with wonders and horrors beyond understanding. From races of two genders or three, to hive minds or a single planet-sized entity. And overseeing all of this is CAPS — the Coalition of Allied Planetary Systems. It’s this alliance that supervises diplomacy and trade, and that keeps the races strictly segregated and safe from threats of war or destabilization. And they do this, in part, with the veil. Well, the VEILEDD, a Variable Energy Intensive Lightwave & Electromagnetic Distortion Device that allows their ships to be all but invisible as they traverse the universe in their peacekeeping missions.
Rowland, a one-time CAPS Navy officer turned thief, has his eyes set on a derelict ship that still has, of all things, a working VEIL. With this, he and his crew will be able to pull off the biggest heists with the greatest safety, slipping away like shadows in the night. It’s a perfect plan, or would be, if it weren’t for the attack by the Pryok’tel, one of the monsters the CAPS forces protect the Alliance against.
The Pryok’tel are a race that view anything not Pryok’tel as food. They’re cannibals who don’t care if the flesh they’re eating comes from a sentient, sapient creature or not, anymore than they care if the meat is alive or not. And Rowland’s crew has now been taken. It’s only through a small bit of luck he is able to avoid capture himself, but worst of all, the VEIL, that lovely piece of CAPS tech, is also now in the hands of the Pryok’tel who can use it to devour the Alliance, species by species, planet by planet. It’s up to Rowland to stop them. Somehow.
His weapons are his wits, his ability to jack into ship systems, and an Oarthecan captain named Toar. The Oarthecan, like the Pryok’tel, are supposed to be off limits to humans. CAPS directives keep these two races particularly segregated as Oarthecans are known to be dangerous to humans. But Rowland has no choice. If he doesn’t stop the Pryok’tel now, before they manage to replicate the VEIL technology, the galaxy might end up paying the price. And, as Rowland will come to learn, not everything that he’s been taught by the CAPS is true. The Oarthecan aren’t quite the threat he’s been led to believe. Does this mean he might be wrong about the Pryok’tel, as well?
Allure of Oartheca is the first book in the Oarthecan Star Saga, and while the series does continue beyond this book, I will not be reading on. This book has some very interesting ideas and some good moments, but it’s all lost in the jumble and confusion. I will say that this story, as a science fiction adventure, has some very clever twists on familiar tropes and some very detailed world building. A lot of world building. And that’s the book’s biggest problem, for me. Normally, world building is used to enhance the story, to add nuance and history to the events taking place and add a greater sense of depth and urgency to situations. However, in this book, the world building feels like it is the story, and it feels like the characters are existing simply to explain the world.
Written in first person from both Rowland and Toar’s POVs, the story reads like a diary. The events of the book are told to the reader in monologue info dumps. It is page after page of being told about this or that person, event, or scientific achievement, with minor interruptions for conversation before the characters go back to showing off the world building. And there is some good and detailed world building, but it’s often too much, too detailed, or a tangent that has very little to do with what’s going on with the characters at the moment. It slows the story down and, placed as it is, leaves conversations between two characters, or even actions taken by characters, feeling stilted and jerky as if they’re the interruption or the aside. For example, while being flirted with by a younger officer, Toar is having a lengthy exposition dump explaining why his culture does things this way, why young and beautiful officers are encouraged to come to the beds of their senior officers, how they view sex, what they call sex, what the gender divide is between Oarthecans, what the joke was the young officer made, the fact that the pie will be good to eat after they’re done, what and why scent glands are important, and what the young man smells like. All of this is lengthier and more detailed than the few moments of conversation or intimacy between the two characters! Then it’s a run to the bridge as an emergency takes place, but all the information Toar is telling us is who among his bridge crew he has slept with and why, who he hasn’t slept with, the history of his ship, and where his rooms are in relation to the bridge, etc, rather than focusing on the fact that something’s happening to their ship that may or may not be dangerous and/or lethal.
Overall, the balance between action, introspection, world building, dialogue, and information dumps is so off that I often had to go back and reread sections just to figure out what scene all of this talking head filler was interrupting. The first person POV also makes it awkward because, with all this lengthy and opinionated exposition, it reads more like a history paper or diary written in present tense. Rowland is one moment talking to the audience about how the Pyrok’tel race uses their three mouths to eat, while mourning that his ex-lover and friend is going to be eaten by them, and then goes right back to talking about the mouths and alien culture. It’s strange. And vaguely off-putting. Past the halfway mark, when the world building stops and the story is allowed to take center stage, things do improve. The pace is still a bit sluggish, with detours to reiterate scenes from each character’s POV, events and motivations overly explained, and Rowland and Toar thinking long and often about how much in love they are with the person they met two days ago, but I did find the second half easier to read.
In addition to all this, the Oarthecan race is separated into the drone class, of which Toar is a member — large, physically solid individuals with fur, round ears, and muzzles (like a bear) — and the childbearing Barons, who look just like human men. Their Barons, a rare and protected gender, are almost never allowed to leave their planet. This means that when any Oarthecan sees a human male, they treat them as they would a Baron. Which means being sexually aroused by them, obediently in thrall to them, and protective and possessive of them, hence the CAPS decision to ensure humans and Oarthecans are kept apart. Therefore, when Toar sees Rowland for the first time, he’s head over heels in lust and feels the biological imperative to fall in love with him. Rowland, who was in love with one of his crew members, wants to rescue his crew. But when he sees Toar, he can’t help but be amused by the idea that he has some power over the man, and then delighted, and then in love. Rowland has had non-human lovers before and doesn’t seem monogamous (as he has no difficulty taking up a new lover while his old one is still, maybe, alive), but it does seem to happen rather fast and with very little explanation. Also, despite all the efforts made to make each race different and unique, Toar and Rowland instantly understand one another’s cultures, body languages, and motivations. Everyone sounds the same, speaks the same, and seems to think and feels the same.
There are some nice bits and pieces in this book, but the author’s writing style does not work for me at all. I felt no connection to the characters, who felt like the got in the way of the world building, which was in turn taking the place of the story, which the characters were commenting on rather than participating in. I honestly don’t recommend this, not because it’s bad, but because I found it to be clumsy, hard to read, and a struggle to make myself continue. As I said, I won’t be picking up the second book in this series.