After a recent breakup, Zal Catenmir has been licking his wounds in isolation. He’s less sad about the breakup and more upset that he made himself smaller to be in a relationship with someone who never accepted him as he is. Zal’s mother encourages him to reconnect with the vivacious and curious person he used to be by having fun and maybe hooking up while the family is on Earth for her diplomatic duties. Zal throws himself (and all his repressed flirtatious energy) into the task, instantly locking on to his attractively buttoned-up liaison.
As the head of the Settlement and Relocation branch of the Ministry of Alien Relations, Devlin Taylor typically helps aliens handle the day-to-day practicalities of living on Earth, but when the department is short staffed, he’s tasked with being liaison to the ambassador for the Chroalians, particularly escorting her son around. From the moment they meet, something about Zal flusters Devlin, hindering his professionalism and leaving him feeling vulnerable and off balance. When Devlin realizes the attraction is mutual, he’s hesitant to act on it. He knows he gets attached too quickly, and Zal is only on planet for two weeks. However, Zal is special and just too tempting; the memories they create will be worth the heartbreak.
As their time flies by by in a haze of sex, outings, and fun, the pair also finds a companionship, comfort, and compatibility that neither expected, and despite constantly reminding themselves their relationship has an expiry date, they become enamored of one another. Because of Earth’s less developed societal and technological status, those in Alien Relations aren’t allowed off planet and Zal’s work as a xenobiologist will probably never bring him back to Earth. Though an “Earth Ambassador Program is under development, it doesn’t look likely Devlin will get the job, and the lovers may need to say their goodbyes forever.
Ministry of Alien Relations is an enjoyable get-together story about people being reminded of and believing in their inherent worth and finding the person who sees and appreciates them. Both Zal and Devlin start the story recovering from breakups that stirred up self-doubt, but Zal has an easier time bouncing back. Zal grew up in a loving home with a close bond with his outgoing and devoted mother. Although, his ex’s disapproving and belittling attitude and Zal’s determination to be the partner his boyfriend wanted led him to shutting parts of himself away, he was able to quickly right himself with a nudge from his mother. Zal’s upbringing grounds him and makes him fundamentally confident and secure, unlike Devlin.
Devlin is competent, organized, and exceptionally good at rehoming aliens and part of that lies in his compassion and empathy—something so ingrained that he sees it as merely doing his job, while those he helps know how valuable and generous he is. Something seems to have happened to Devlin while he was a field agent tasked with capturing and sometimes killing rogue aliens that burned him out and redirected his focus to helping aliens live good lives. As confident and at ease as Devlin is in the office, his self-doubt has convinced him that safety lay in mundanity and accepting mediocrity in his personal life. An orphan who never knew his mother and was shipped off to boarding school as a child by a disinterested father, Devlin has made peace with his lot in life, but has also internalized the belief that he isn’t worth keeping and will always be left behind; loving Zal is an exhilarating, painful reminder.
While Zal is the less developed of the MCs, he’s a charming and ebullient much needed breath of fresh air for Devlin. He wants to make the most of his time on Earth and the amazing and unexpected connection he finds with Devlin. Zal is a kind and an accomplished scientist who may have sex on the brain, but is as emotionally intelligent as he is academically. He’s very invested in rekindling the flirtatious and carefree parts of himself and makes no bones about wanting Devlin and making that interest known. However, I appreciated how quickly he backs off whenever he realizes he’s making Delvin uncomfortable. Zal knows what he wants, but is cognizant of the power imbalance and respectful of Devlin’s feelings and doubts. It infuriates him that “definitely not dull Devlin” has been made to feel that he deserves less than intimacy and loving relationships, and it hurts that he can’t stay and prove it to him.
I really enjoyed the characters and their happiness in one another. Zal’s gleefulness is infectious and his uninhibited manner and horn-dog antics amusing. Devlin is grounded and sensible, but romantically uncertain, so it’s nice to see him completely swept away by Zal’s irrepressible undertow, and though Zal’s mother only has a few appearances, she is an unfiltered delight. The writing style and world building is light and breezy, matching Devlin and Zal’s playful and easy relationship, which primarily consists of lots of sex interspersed with food breaks, cultural lessons/dates, and sweet moments. Cohen does a good job showing the bureaucracy and office life of the ministry without getting bogged down in details. As the aliens Devlin encounters are all hiding as humans on Earth and Chroalians are bipedal beings with anatomy and physiology very similar to humans, the alien element serves more as a showcase for Devlin’s skills and compassion (and a source for the standard colloquialisms mistranslation jokes). However, this doesn’t detract from the story and works for the narrative as Zal and Devlin’s whirlwind affair is the focus and the scenes with other aliens do show what he and his department does, thus avoiding info dumps.
Outside of some hints about Devlin’s previous job that aren’t fleshed out and a few mistakes like human numerals being on doors on the Chroalian ship, I had fun with this low-angst read with its endearing characters with great chemistry and some alien shenanigans and a cheeky tail for added flavor. I think those who like light sci-fi, love interests with tails, and out-of-this world romance will enjoy Ministry of Alien Relations, and I can’t wait to see what the universe has in store for them.